Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The old gray hair, it ain't what is used to be...

I had a 30th high school reunion this weekend and like a lot of folks who attended I wanted to look my best at the events, so the thought of coloring my hair came up again, but just as quickly as it came up, it was dismissed. 

     Simply put, the wife is not a fan of my gray hair.  She'll have to explain in her blog why, oh wait, she doesn't write one, so she'll have to comment on this one, but if I had to guess, it has something to 
My classmate Sue at I at a reunion event
do with me looking older, which is exactly why I don't have an issue with it, you see, I am older.  I'm as vain as the next guy (some may say more vain), but I'm as OK with the gray as I am with the natural aging of my face. I don't judge others for coloring their hair or for however they want to present themselves, but for me, I'd rather face the world, gray hairs and all, even if it makes me less attractive to some.  I've certainly received compliments as well on my looks and the word "distinguished" gets thrown around a little, but my wife would probably argue that they are saying "old" in code and I can't really argue the point, but I can express my indifference if they do mean that, because I earned each and every gray hair. 

    Gray hair is caused by epidermal oxidative stress which causes the hair follicles to produce hydrogen peroxide so essentially you gray from the inside out.  I started graying about 10 years ago, it started in my temples and has gradually taken over more of the real estate on my head. 
Char and I last year
I've dyed my hair exactly once, for a series of work videos I did, where I portrayed a superhero.  In the weeks that followed though, each and every time I looked into my shaving mirror, I felt a parody of me was staring back.  It was a little creepy, like the Star Trek episode of "Mirror Mirror" where the crew encounters themselves in an alternate universe.  When it started coming back in, only then did I feel more like myself.  To be clear, however, and for those that know me know only too well, I have no issue with acting younger than my age, just with dying my hair to look younger.  I am consistent in my belief as this relates to the opposite sex too.  I've never included youth in the equation for attractive qualities in women and over the years, I've looked at a lot of women.  A few years ago, for instance, I was awestruck by the beauty of a 55 year old woman that was sitting across a bar from me, so much so, that I had to stop myself
Still young enough to hang with the boy
from inappropriately staring.  She had those classic features like high cheekbones and feathered gray hair, like Farrah Fawcett (look her up kids) and the combination made her absolutely stunning.  There were younger women in the bar that night, but none prettier. 

     I will admit a small vanity as it relates to my graying hair and that is my hatred of the rogue gray hair that refuses to lay down with the rest of them.  It likely has to go with the texture of those hairs but if one does go errant on me and stick straight out, I will pluck it out to set an example to the rest of them.  You'll give me that one without dismissing the rest of my rant, right?   I keep my hair cut short for the same
Reed did all right for himself, gray and all
reason.  I suspect I'd look like a spiky gray Chia Pet if I didn't.  It's more about order than older in this instance.  I'm sure you can think of guys that you find attractive that have some gray hair.  For me, I see myself like a real life Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic to all you non-Marvel comic fans).  I need to close the blog now, but would like to hear your opinions on gray on men, women, or aging in general.  Feel free to comment on the blog or my Facebook page, but please hurry, after all, I'm not getting any younger. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It's kind of like an Etch a Sketch.......

     This blog was written on July 18th 2013 and set to post on Tuesday July 23rd at 1 am.  I'm away from technology this week, so if I've missed a big world or national event and the blog seems insensitive about it, it's just ignorance, not intentional.

     This week I'm leaving the heavy lifting to you.  The intention is that I will give you just the basic facts on where I am and what I'm doing and then I'll let you each paint your own unique pictures in your heads of
what this might actually look like. I'm attaching just one picture to this blog too (I just lost half my audience, they like the pictures), and it's of the original Ipad, oops I mean Etch a Sketch. This one shows DaVinci's Vitruvian Man.  The nicest things I ever drew on an Etch a Sketch I did accidentally, but in my imagination, I could do a drawing as nice as this.  I'm a fan of Bill Watterson too, who wrote the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.   The whole strip is about an adolescent boy and the imaginary adventures he has with his stuffed tiger, so in that spirit, it's time to play Calvinball !

     I'm in rural West Virginia this week attending the National Boy Scout Jamboree.  Although 9 of my 15 Scouts and an assistant leader of mine are attending too, I'm not here as a leader this time, I'm on the staff of the Stadium Experience Team.  My job is to assist with the big shows including a full day event called JamboPalooza.  I don't know my schedule as I arrive on campus later this morning, but I do know I have a 45 minute hike to work each day, which means a 45 minute hike back after work too.  I'll get fed in a mess tent, and I'm sleeping in a tent with 3 other male volunteers in 2 bunk beds.  Since I'm coming in for the 2nd half of the Jamboree, I'll probably end up with the top bunk.  It's been a while since I slept in the top of a bunk bed, so you can imagine now the hilarious things that may have happened to me already this week just getting in and out of bed.  Think of the first guy who did the Fosbury Flop in the high jump (I can't remember his name, it's tough to get old).  There is no hot water so while I can shower, the ambient water temperature here is 55 degrees.  I'm in camp Echo and my Scouts are a hill or two over in their camp, so I'm not sure I'm just going to pop over there to visit.  They may see me at the shows, but there are 9,000 staffers and 30,00-40,000 Scouts so that may not even happen (Picture popping over to the neighbors to borrow a cup of sugar, but you live in the Little House on the Prairie, man I wish I had pictures for this one, I could have filled up a lot of space already).

     On the schedule there are planned things and things that may or may not happen.  We might get a Presidential Visit, it has happened at Jamborees before, but my money says we won't see President Obama, he'll delegate this likely so I wonder who will come?  We lost the musical groups Train and singer Carly Rae Jepsen to the controversy earlier this year, but there were replaced with other groups.   The Boy Scouts kept quiet on who they were, so I'll be seeing 2 big name bands but don't know which ones.  There are plans to set off the biggest firework in West Virgina history, it's a 4 foot shell.  We will attempt to set at least one Guinness Book World Record.  We'll try and have 25,000 beach balls in the air at one time.   We also will make the biggest Fleur de Lis comprised of standing Scouts and take an aerial shot of it.  I may get a chance to meet Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe, who is an Eagle Scout himself, he's coming for sure.  When an Eagle Scout tells you he's doing something, you can bank on it.  Mike was asked one time by a parent of a Scout and potential Eagle to try and motivate his son to finish the rank.  Mike's letter back is a classic example now of what it takes to be an Eagle Scout ( Mike's letter to a potential Eagle)  Relax, it's a link, not a picture.  There are huge ziplines and whitewater rafting and mountain biking too, so I could end up doing some of these activities in my free time. 

     Incidentally all of this is happening during the longest stretch of time that I've not slept in the same bad as my wife, in my life.  She left for local Scout camp a week ago Sunday and I return this Thursday.  That's 11 straight days and even for a travel guy like me, that's a long stretch.  I'll miss her.  I wonder how my 48 year old creaking body will hold up to the work too, will I be limping with swollen joints at the end?  I've got to work in the sun all week, so I'm bringing sunscreen and I bought an older style Scout campaign hat with a wide brim to help (are you picturing Dudley Do-right?) but I may come back red anyway.  I hope not because I have my 30th high school reunion starting the day after I return.   Like every other person coming to that I'd like to drop a couple of lbs prior to it, so maybe that will happen or maybe I'll gain a little due to eating cafeteria style all week.  The week will have sparse technology for me as I'm leaving my laptop behind and they aren't promising any charging stations for electronics.  I may not be able to even share this week's blog to Facebook with my normal "It's Tuesday, Blog Day" line, so feel free to help me out and share it to yours.  I think I've given you enough to paint a good picture, you have your assignment, get to work imagining the blog this week and  I'll see you back next week. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On high school reunions

     This morning I reflect on these gatherings and the kind of people that attend them.

     I'll throw it right out there that I am a fan of high school reunions.  I'm not sure that I made our 10th reunion, but I got the information about the following one and decided to join the committee and have been involved in the planning of them ever since. Next weekend I'll be part of the 30th reunion
from high school for the 1983 Class of Canandaigua Academy and I'm certain that I'll have a great time.   We had a class of 300, however, and at this point with the reunion just 10 days away it looks like we only attract about 75 classmates and then have 40-50 guests that come in with them.  I'm was disappointed in the number, until I saw the picture from our 20th reunion, and then began to realize some standard truths. 

     No one that ever helped to plan a class reunion, complains about the price.  it's a pretty bold statement, but I think it bears out.  The ticket price has to include all the incidentals as there is no 
other income stream for the event, so typically the ticket price ($30-$75) includes mailings, DJ or band, rental of the facility and/or a tent, the meal, attending gift, and prizes and awards.  The committee members know these costs all too well, but the other classmates don't, so I've heard the ticket price complaint as the reason that people aren't attending quite often.  For my latest reunion the price to gather with the classmates, have a good meal, and have hours of dancing afterwards is $35 per person.  It's tough to get all of the above for less than that, and our committee eliminated suggestion after suggestion to keep the cost of attending low, but believe it or not, I've heard complaints.  I'll guarantee that these complainers have paid more for a meal at a restaurant, a ticket to a concert or even for a pair of shoes, but they will gripe about this cost.  Why?  I suspect because they don't see value in the gathering, so no matter how hard you work to try and please this type of person, it's a losing proposition.  We had offers from classmates to cover the costs of other classmates who
couldn't afford to attend, and even after advertising this, we got no takers,  I had an epiphany the other evening as I was looking over the names and locations of those attending, and realized that many of the people that are coming are buying airfares, hotel rooms, meals at restaurants, and using their vacation time to come back and connect with the others, and they are excited to do so.  The epiphany I had was, would I rather spend an evening with a crowd of that kind of person, or with a crowd of people that would complain about spending $35 to visit with classmates that they haven't seen in a decade?  It's an easy choice.

     The second excuse that I hear the most is even sadder, and it goes something like this... " I didn't
enjoy my time in high school, so why would I pay money to go back to relive it again"   I'll utter a bold statement again, anyone that did go to a reunion could ever feel that way.  I was poor, not terribly popular, and not dressed well ( My Red Jeans story), yet I managed to enjoy my time in high
school just the same.  All the reunions I've attended didn't resemble high school in the least.  There were no tables made up of jocks or the popular kids, there was no bullying or exclusion of individuals, there was simply a bunch of adults reminiscing about the past, but more commonly talking about what had happened since high school.  You'd expect that, of course, since high school took up 4 of our years, and we've lived 30 more since then.  I've been to the reunions and the people that chose to go to them aren't stuck in the past, but the people that don't probably are since they somehow expect to see the same kind of high school behaviors played out.  I've had experience with the actual reunions, and with the people that don't choose to go, and the only place I think that these behaviors occur are in the heads of those who don't go. 

     I'll close with my epiphany about reunions that I had this week while looking at the photo from my 20th.  Almost every person in attendance 10 years ago is coming back to this one.  I say almost
because sadly, there are 2 classmates in the picture that have died since the last reunion.  I had a chance to reconnect with both of them, and work closely on the committee with one of them.  I hadn't known either in high school but got to hear their stories at our 20th, you can read one of theirs here ( My friend Eileen). They both fought courageous battles against cancer but neither let that define them, they volunteered, they worked, one married and one didn't and they stayed in our home town and made it a better place to live.  So I'll finish this short blog exactly how I started it, I'm a fan of high school reunions, because I get to reconnect with people like this at them. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Oh Lord, DON'T you buy me a Mercedes Benz !

     I'm far from being a car guy, a vehicle, to me,  is something which gets me from here to there, so it was not a decision that was made based on status, I just thought I had a good deal on the car, until lately......

     I have the opportunity to bid on leased cars at my work and I check them out regularly.  I purchased an Equinox from there a few years ago, used it for a year and then sold it to my daughter.  I think it's been a dependable car for all of us with just regular maintenance issues as you might
What my car looks like
expect.  2 years ago while looking at the cars on the site, I happened upon a 2006 Mercedes E350 that was pretty sharp looking and had a reasonable number of miles on it.  I did some quick research on the value of the car, talked with my wife about the purchase and then decided to bid on the car.  A few days later I was informed that my bid was accepted and I found myself the proud owner of a luxury vehicle.  My plan was to use it for 3 years and then to sell it outright and then to purchase another.  I paid close to vehicle wholesale for the car, so it seemed like a good, frugal plan, even if it was a Mercedes, but I was soon to find out that "The Best or Nothing" is a great slogan but hardly describes my experience with the car or with Mercedes Benz.

     I took delivery of the car in March of 2011and I spent my first $1,000 on the car the month after.  It was on brake sensors, disc brakes and pads, an air filter and a decent spare.  As an "on the road" salesman, I couldn't afford to not have a full spare with me, and in fairness the only thing broken on the car at that time and mileage (53,000) was the Keyless Go system that worked intermittently.  The
There was only one Janis.
vehicle was fully inspected by the good folks at Geneva Foreign and Sports (I highly recommend these folks for servicing your foreign autos).  I drove away confident in the reliable German engineering.  I was a little less confident 4 months later when I drove back in to replace an air injection pump and pump relay, which with the oil change that time added another $1,000 to my car upkeep bill.  I got 2 weeks of trouble free driving after that and then the car wouldn't start.  Another trip in and this time I got a new battery and crank position sensor.  I got the back brakes done while there, so it was another $1,000.  Two months later when it was the ignition switch that was replaced, I got out of there for only $800 and that was beginning to feel like a deal.   Most of these repairs were based on the codes that were put out with each malfunction, and a short 3 months later the ME Control unit failed completely (the dealer called it a faulty module) and this time the repair estimate was $2,700.  I plead my case with the nearest dealer (Mercedes Benz of Rochester) and with Mercedes Customer Care, and the result of my pleading was a $269 discount offered by the dealer out of their good faith funds.  I was feeling anything but good faith at this point.  I had put 10,000 miles on the car and the repairs totaled $5,500, and the car had just broken the 63,000 mile mark.

     I had about 6 months of trouble free driving before my next couple of small repairs and they were for a washer pump, and a new thermostat so they are hardly worth mentioning.  Last week's issue is though.  The car went into "Limp Home" mode one day and it's a safety feature to help protect the
engine by only allowing you to go as high as 2nd gear.  I ran it to my good car guys in Geneva, and unfortunately the news was anything but good.  My transmission was shot and they even found metal shavings in the fluid.  A quick search on the Internet told me that this problem was far from rare with this year and model so when I made my case to Mercedes Customer Care this time, I was sure that they would do the reasonable thing and at least split the repair costs with me. I was reminded that the warranty on the car was for 50,000 miles and 4 years, does that seem low to you for a foreign luxury car originally retailing for over $60,000?  Yeah, me too.  It took 2 more calls and 4 more days to finally get the answer that Mercedes would be covering none of the repair.  None of it.  I had called to get the quote from Mercedes Benz of Rochester and they originally quoted the repair price of $4,672 for the transmission, torque converter and labor.  This was far cheaper than my guys in Geneva were allowed to buy the parts, so I had the car towed to Rochester for repairs.  When I called back for the appointment, the dealership informed me that they had misquoted the job and that the total job was
now $6,200.  They then offered the 10% good faith discount again which I accepted of course but now realized by overcharging for parts and labor in the first place, it really meant nothing in the real world.  It meant even less when I picked up my car and the bill with the discount at Mercedes Benz of Rochester was over $6,200 after the discount.  They now claimed that the sales tax wasn't included in the "Total" price.  In essence they had misquoted this job 2 times and took no responsibility for either one.  A short discussion with 2 managers confirmed that they "could do nothing".  Now the new Mercedes Slogan "The Best or Nothing" made sense, because I did not get the best but I did get nothing. This was my "Aha" moment. 

     I have no power over a car company like Mercedes or an mega dealer like Mercedes Benz of Rochester, but I do have my true story, documented to the nines and also the power of free speech.  I
bought the car from a lease company who maintains that all scheduled maintenance was done.  I've got every one of my invoices and I kept the voice mail from the rep at Mercedes Benz of Rochester "accidentally"  but in detail quoting my latest repair at $4,672.  I have no expectations of more contact from either entity again (unless it's a cease and desist letter from a lawyer, which I promise to post so this blog can go viral).  I would appreciate if all of you please share my story every time one of your friends talks about these fine cars or this dealership.  I'm out about $12,000 right now if you want to round it up and nothing has been warrantied on the car so far in spite of being common problems and faulty parts. This blog average about 1,000 hits a month right now, so in a year's time I have the opportunity to affect the purchasing decisions of about 12,000 people.  I don't think it's a sour grapes kind of issue, I do expect companies to stand behind their manufactured products and it took until the $10,000 mark for repairs before I became dissatisfied.  Feel free to share your story on these cars or this dealership and feel free to recommend my next car, which, of course,  will not be a Mercedes.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The summer that never was

          Have you ever had a summer that was so busy that it flew by before you had a chance to appreciate it?  Welcome to my summer of 2013.

    While I consider myself fairly computer literate, and in actuality my degree is in computer science, I still keep my schedule on a monthly day planner. For work I have a vague idea about 6 weeks out which market that I am going to travel to, so I can throw a quick pencil line across the middle of that
week and write "New England Trip" and then fill in the days as the appointments get made.  Last week, as I was doing some future planning, I happened to glance at the weekend days and to my great surprise there were only 2 or 3 blank ones for the entirety of this summer.  I turned 48 just a few short weeks ago and I had anticipated slowing down by now, but this summer is just balls-out busy. As the cartoon depicts, it's like standing on a beach about to get swamped by the wave of summer activity.

     It's my friends fault first.  You see, they insisted on having children and their children, following in the footsteps of their parents, are insisting on getting married, and so we have at least 3 weddings we are attending this summer.   They are all close family friends and we've already got one in the books, but 3 in one summer is a lot for us.  It was more common when all of our high school and college friends got married around the same time that we did, but suffice it to say it's an unusual year.  The calendar is further filled by graduation parties, another oddity since we don't have a high school or college graduate this year, but many of our darn friends again do.  A lot of our
My wife's handiwork for the first rehearsal dinner
weekends, therefore, will be spent helping our friends celebrate some special moments in their children's lives, so they aren't really things we'd want to remove from the calendar. We extended one graduation party that we attended in Rochester into the next day by staying over and celebrating our wedding anniversary and busy or not, it was nice to make the time to do that this year. 

     It's also my brother's fault.  Ace decided that he wanted to start a catering business, specializing in whole hog BBQ's many years ago and unfortunately I'm one of his helpers.  I actually have more experience on the full catering side of the business as I ran a catering company for a few years back in the 80's, so I guess I can say I'm his partner more than his helper, but like kids having a fight, I'll use the old line "He started it" to shift the blame for me being involved at all, back to him.  We do a dozen or so jobs every summer and he prefers to just do the meat and to leave the side dishes to the hosts, but I don't mind doing the whole job as it lets me stretch my culinary catering muscles.  This summer, in addition to the other jobs on the calendar (I turned down 2 just last week), we have been asked to do
How we normally cater
3 wedding rehearsals and none of them are pig roasts.  They are, once again, all close friends and it's an honor to be included in, and trusted with such events, but it's a little out of our wheel house so we've had to add some equipment and supplies, and have to do some additional recipe testing, so it's not only the days of the event that fill up, it's the weekends shopping for the new items and testing new dishes.  In addition to these jobs we have our family reunion that we attend in August and my brother Ace insists on keeping the tradition of having a corn roast the day prior, alive.  We just agreed to host some cousins at our place that weekend, so we'll do a little more preparation than normal.  I'm not complaining about hosting family, as kids we were recipients multiple times each year of such family generosity, so I try not to say no when asked.  These cousins are favorites of mine, but don't tell them, it will just make it awkward when they are here.  Ace and I try and check out some BBQ competitions each year during the summer too, but there's no time left to do that, this year.

     As many of you know I'm a Scouter and have been the Scoutmaster of my local Troop for 8 years now.  Since we take a break from meeting each week, during the summer, we tend to get less busy, but wouldn't this year have to be the exception to that rule?  Of course it would.  We have been
fundraising to attend the Boy Scout National Jamboree for the last 18 months and it takes place in July.  It's only held once every four years and we've never attended previously, but we've got 9 of our 15 Scouts attending, one of our leaders, and I'm headed down to work on staff.  In addition I've got a couple of Scouts attending Camp Massawepie this year and I've volunteered to bat clean up at the end of that week so I can check out a new camp.  For a while now our main Troop planning happens at a family camp that we hold in late August, where we all rent out adjacent sites at a campground and then mid-weekend we hold a Boy Scout meeting to determine our direction for the year.  This year will be no different, so 3 days get checked off just for that.  Our fundraising schedule, at least, has ceased for the summer, so that is a bright spot on this full calendar.

     I've mentioned that I just turned 48, so if you have done the math, you'll realize that I'm 30 years now out of high school, which of course means, I have a reunion.  I'm a big fan of these as I have more in common with my high school friends now, than I
4 siblings at this year's tournament
did back then, so I've been a part of the planning committee.  We've got some meetings coming up to finalize the details and it's not a one day event either.  I'm chairing the Friday night get together, golfing in the tournament, and attending the Saturday dinner and Sunday picnic.  One more weekend, completely filled.  Speaking of golf, did I mention that we just put our 16th annual family tournament to bed, raising an additional $10,500 for the charity?  Cuz we did.  My wife and I were smart and knocked off 3 would-be weekend events and celebrated them all on that Sunday since all of our kids were home.  Necessity is truly the mother of Invention. 

     To wrap up the blog and the busy summer we've got just a few other events and some yet to be planned events.  We've had one family party on my wife's side but still have one to go.  We want to hike/camp  with my daughter and her boyfriend but nothing's on the calendar yet.  We've squeezed in
I don't even have time for my girlfriend
a couple of short hikes already, and should keep it up to prepare us for the Jamboree.  I'm a big fan of the Sand Bar in Cdga, so I do plan on getting there a few times this summer, but it may have to be on Sunday afternoons, weather permitting.  We've got friends with a new outdoor fire pit that we'd like to visit and some with boats too.  Concerts are always a possibility, but no plans exist yet and wine touring pops up as an offer quite often, but nothing is penned in there either.  We'll surely squeeze in our church festival and maybe a fireman's carnival or two and we are trying to support a neighboring Troop's pancake breakfast some Sunday.   We've got tickets to a Fireman's party a few Saturdays from now.  I'd love to say that's all of it, but I'm certain that I've missed something.  The point of today's blog?  To boast? To gripe? Not at all, just a recap, and a pre-warning for our friends, if you call to invite us to something this summer, don't be surprised if we politely have to decline.