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So now what do I do?

June 27, 2018, 8:30 AM

This exercise thing sucks.  I recently came to the realization that I’m never going back to Planet Fitness, and therefore I’m cancelling my membership.  No sense in spending $20 per month on something that I’m not going to use.

I can’t say that I didn’t try, though.  I signed up, and I went as I planned, i.e. after work, during the overnight hours.  I tried all of the equipment, and while the elliptical and the recumbent stair climber seemed like possible winners, the whole Planet Fitness environment intimidated me too much.  How ironic for a company that markets itself with a slogan of “No Gymtimidation”.  I got the specific feeling that they were more interested in their “No Gymtimidation” and “Judgement [sic] Free Zone” image than they were about fitness (and a few people seem to agree with me).  The presence of that stupid “lunk alarm” gimmick also sent off the wrong vibe, and I never even touched the free weights, nor did I have any intention to ever use them.  It’s allegedly the judgment free zone, but they’re constantly watching and judging everything that you do, and that made me feel less at ease with it than I preferred.  I just want to go in, do my thing, and leave.  Too much emphasis on individual conduct makes me uncomfortable because it makes me feel somewhat on edge, and that creates a sense of hostility, like I’m being micromanaged.  Perception is reality here, and that perception negatively affected my enjoyment of the club.

Additionally, I couldn’t find a location that I liked.  I found out that some locations were de facto closed on Sunday nights because they dismantled the entire facility to clean it on those nights.  However, because one of Planet Fitness’s big selling points was being open 24 hours, they couldn’t actually close the facility to clean it.  They had to remain open, even though none of the equipment was available.  So on more than one occasion, Elyse and I got dressed and went out, only to be turned away because all of the equipment was offline for cleaning.  That just speaks of poor planning on the facility’s part, since they could easily split the work and clean in sections over the course of a week in order to maintain full access at all times.  Other locations were better, but too far from my house.  I halfway liked the downtown Silver Spring location, but it was just too far away to be practical.

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When you just hate recognition that much…

May 15, 2018, 11:05 PM

People are always amazed when I tell them that I hate receiving recognition.  I just don’t like it.  I don’t find it enjoyable.  In fact, I find it incredibly awkward all around.  I don’t know what it is, but it just isn’t a fun thing.  This came to mind recently because of two discussions that I had with colleagues in the last few weeks.  One was about an operator competition that my employer was having, and another was about an employee of the month program that my specific division has.

In the case of the former, where train operators go out and demonstrate their skills for judges, I couldn’t see any way to get a satisfactory result for myself as a participant.  If I don’t place, I’m kicking myself for not doing better.  If I place, then I have to deal with a whole bunch of unwanted recognition.  Not participating at all seems to take care of both concerns, and I have no problem attending as a non-competitor and watching others compete.  I’ve done that before at a similar event for the bus, where I was there but didn’t compete, and I had a blast.  Besides, I have the most fun just being myself while operating the service.

In the case of the latter, a coworker brought up the idea of it, and how I would possibly be a good candidate for the employee of the month award.  I was honest about it: if I ever were to get the award, I believe that my response would be, “Thank you very much, but please give it to someone else.”  In other words, I would probably decline it.  I just want to do my job and call it a day, and a whole bunch of unnecessary attention just gets in the way of my being awesome.

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Categories: Birthdays, JMU, LPCM, Myself, Walmart, Work

Looking back on ten years at Hewitt Gardens…

March 3, 2018, 4:54 PM

When I moved to Montgomery County in 2007, I never imagined that I’d stay in the same apartment for a decade.  But I did.  Hewitt Gardens Apartments, on Hewitt Avenue in Aspen Hill, was my home from May 10, 2007 to November 16, 2017, i.e. ten years and six months.  In the intervening decade, the apartment served its purpose, but I eventually outgrew it, and it eventually became very clear that it was time to move on.

I found Hewitt Gardens in a second round of apartment hunting, in May 2007.  I originally wasn’t supposed to live at Hewitt Gardens at all.  If things had gone as originally planned, I would have lived in Oakfield (now split into two properties, with the other called Glenmont Crossing), i.e. closer to Wheaton, across Shorefield Road from H-Mart.  But what happened is that after I filled out their pages-long application and sent in a deposit, I was informed that there were no one-bedroom apartments available, and that they could “upgrade” me to a more expensive unit with a den, and give me two months’ free rent, allegedly to compensate for the change.  However, even that would not be deliverable in the timeframe that I needed, plus what they tried to pull with me was a bait-and-switch, which is a really dishonest thing to do.  Nothing like starting a relationship with mistrust of the management’s business practices, right?  So Oakfield was out, I got my deposit back, and I conducted a new search.  In the new search, I had Hewitt Gardens, Peppertree Farm (off of Bel Pre Road), and Montgomery White Oak (off of Lockwood Drive) on my shortlist.  Hewitt Gardens was first, and it was perfect.  It had a lot of space, it was close to the Metro, it didn’t have a lot of unnecessary amenities, and at $920/month, the price was right.  Plus, unlike Oakfield, they showed me my actual apartment, and not a model.  We ended up putting a deposit in with Hewitt Gardens on the spot, with the idea that no matter what else happened, I would have a place to live when my new job started in a couple of weeks.  Peppertree Farm was more money and had a bunch of amenities that I didn’t need, and then Montgomery White Oak was a five-minute visit, since the apartment was just not very good, as well as more expensive than I would have liked.  So Hewitt Gardens it was.

It took Hewitt Gardens a few days to complete all of the processing on my application, and by Wednesday, May 9, 2007, they were ready to go.  I was up the next day to sign my lease and move in.  So far, everything was good.  I got my stuff moved in, I got the Internet turned on, I got my parking permit, etc.  Additionally, the new job, where I was an underappreciated office monkey at a nonprofit, was going well.

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I suppose that this is why you buy a Kia…

December 4, 2017, 2:59 PM

I suppose that what happened to me recently is exactly why you buy a Kia.  My car had been making some funny noises for a while, but since the check engine light had not come on yet, I figured that I had time to deal with it, and put it off until later.  This past Monday, the noises got noticeably worse, and the “check engine” light finally came on.  That’s when I scheduled a repair with a Kia dealer (since I suspected it might be covered by the warranty) and booked a rental car for the upcoming repair.  Then the car finally quit on me on the way to work, i.e. it just cut off in the middle of Georgia Avenue in Olney.  Thankfully, I was able to coast to a safe location to call for a tow truck.

The car ended up riding on the back of a tow truck from Olney directly to the dealer, and then I took the bus the rest of the way to work.  Then the next day, Elyse and I took a bus down to Rockville to pick up the rental car and talk to the people working on my real car.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone on that one, because I had planned a trip to IKEA during that time anyway, so I rented a truck.  So for a few days, I went from a Kia Soul – a compact – to a Ram 1500 pickup truck.  That thing was massive:

My rented Ram 1500 pickup truck

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Categories: Furniture, House, IKEA, Kia Soul

Renting out eight rooms…

September 30, 2017, 12:29 AM

So apparently, I spoke too soon when it came to the closure of The Inn at Afton.  You may recall that last month, I announced the closure of The Inn at Afton, based on a sign that said that the lobby and hotel were closed.  Elyse and I went down that way again on Wednesday, and one of our stops was to see how The Inn at Afton looked in the daylight after finally going out of business for good.  Much to our surprise, we found that the place was open again.  We stopped into room 211, which was being used as the lobby, and had a chat with the lady working inside.  As it turns out, the hotel is barely operational, with only eight rooms, all on the parking lot side, in service.  None of the rooms on the other side, which has a tremendous view of the piedmont, are in service.  I’m told that the remaining rooms have been stripped, and a walk past some of the first-floor rooms that are not in service seems to confirm this.  That means that out of 118 total rooms, 110 of them are out of service, presumably for being uninhabitable.  That’s an availability of 6.7%.  For that few rooms, it hardly seems worthwhile to remain open, but apparently, they do, likely out of habit.

Meanwhile, the room being used as the lobby smelled strongly of mold, and had visible mold and water damage.  Definitely an unhealthy environment.  We might have stuck around for longer and chatted with the very nice lady working there, but the mold smell was too much.  I imagine that the rooms that are still in service are just as bad, if they are willing to let the room that they’re using as a lobby become so bad.  Thank heavens for Orbit “Bubblemint” gum.  It got the mold taste out of my mouth.

So apparently, and much to my surprise, just when we thought that the book had closed on the operational history of the vintage businesses on Afton Mountain, there’s more to the Afton story to be told.

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Saying goodbye to that unique combination of mediocre pizza and animatronic animals…

September 9, 2017, 1:32 PM

The recent news out of CEC Entertainment, the company that operates the Chuck E. Cheese’s chain of restaurants, was that they were redesigning their restaurants to include the elimination of the animatronic band.  The new concept certainly looks lovely, as they give the dated Chuck E. Cheese theme a modern appearance.  However, I have mixed feelings about the elimination of the animatronics.

First, for those of you who aren’t familiar, here is a brief history of the concept: Chuck E. Cheese was introduced as the mascot of Pizza Time Theatre in 1977, a company founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, which was a pizzeria and arcade with an animatronic show.  Then entrepreneur Bob Brock founded ShowBiz Pizza Place in 1980, which was the same basic concept, but outsourced the show to Aaron Fechter‘s Creative Engineering.  The two were in competition with each other until Pizza Time Theatre declared bankruptcy, and ShowBiz bought them out.  They ran the two brands in parallel for a while, but considering that the ShowBiz show and characters were outsourced, while the Chuck E. Cheese characters were owned outright, that came to its logical conclusion in the early 1990s, where all of the ShowBiz restaurants were converted to the Chuck E. Cheese theme and show.  Then in the late 1990s, they started doing stages with only one animatronic rather than five. Then in the early part of this decade, they began opening restaurants with no animatronics at all, leaving the stage empty so that an employee in a rat suit could dance around.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I loved going to ShowBiz, in part because I loved seeing the animatronic band, The Rock-afire Explosion, perform.  I was extremely disappointed when I went into ShowBiz and found my Rock-afire characters gone, having been replaced by a new show called “Munch’s Make Believe Band”.  As soon as I saw it, I remember thinking, The Rock-afire Explosion was a real band, not a pretend one.  I’m pretty sure that we only went to ShowBiz one or two more times after this.  It wasn’t the restaurant that I knew and loved anymore without the Rock-afire.  That was a quality show that was enjoyable for any age.  I enjoyed those shows as a child, and I also enjoyed watching them when I found a bunch of the shows online a few years ago.

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Categories: Companies

I definitely didn’t expect to go to New York City on Wednesday…

August 25, 2017, 12:30 PM

Wednesday, August 23 had been planned as a road trip day for quite some time.  Elyse turned 21 two days prior, and this was my birthday present to her, going on a trip up to Asbury Park, New Jersey to visit the Silverball Museum, a pinball arcade on the boardwalk.  We previously visited this facility in May.  Then the plan was to go up to Menlo Park Mall in Edison to go to Rainforest Cafe, where we were having dinner, and I was buying Elyse a drink.  The day that we ended up having was a lot of fun, but definitely more expansive than I had originally planned.

We left the house around 11:00, with Asbury Park as our destination.  We made a quick stop at Maryland House, and then a White Castle in Howell Township:

White Castle in Howell Township

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Sometimes you have to vote with your feet…

June 15, 2017, 9:18 PM

Sometimes, the fact that the telecommunications market is extremely cutthroat has its advantages from a customer standpoint.  It means that there is no room for loyalty, and also that the big players are more than happy to poach customers from each other.  It also means that if I’m no longer happy with my service, I can bounce at a moment’s notice to someone else who will make me satisfied with their service.

I’ve done that twice in the last five years.  Back in late 2013, I finally took Candice Bergen’s advice and switched to Sprint, replacing Verizon as my cell phone carrier.  The reason for switching at that time was related to my unlimited data plan.  I had an unlimited data plan with Verizon when I got my first smartphone back in early 2010, and kept it with my second smartphone in late 2011.  However, about a year after I got my second smartphone, Verizon announced that they were doing away with unlimited data plans, and that while people on existing unlimited plans were grandfathered in, they could not upgrade to a new phone at the subsidized rate and still keep their unlimited data plans.  In other words, if you wanted to keep your unlimited plan, you had to pay full retail for your device.  I considered that to be unacceptable, so I did my research, and settled on Sprint.  They offered unlimited data plans, and had all of the other features that I was looking for.  So I switched.  Other than a very slight loss of voice quality (Verizon had clearer sound by a hair), I continued to be pleased with Sprint two years later when I upgraded to a new phone, and also when I adjusted my plan a few months ago to a cheaper one that had everything that I already had, plus 10 GB of hotspot service.

Now fast forward to about a week or so ago.  The USB charging port on my Galaxy Note 5 stopped working.  Not good.  That meant that the only way that I could charge my phone was via the wireless charger.  Clearly, this was not a sustainable proposition, since I couldn’t use a wireless charger in a lot of places that I typically charged my phone, like in the car or in a bag.  Plus if I took any photos with my phone, I had to transfer them via the cloud.  I couldn’t just plug in and transfer stuff directly.

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Categories: Cell phone, Companies

A trip to the pinball museum…

May 29, 2017, 10:08 AM

On Tuesday, May 23, Elyse and I, along with mutual friend Brian, went up to Asbury Park, New Jersey for the day.  Our goal was to go to the Silverball Museum, which is a vintage arcade on the Asbury Park boardwalk.

We left in the 10:00 hour, and headed up via the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I-295, and I-195, with a stop for lunch at Maryland House.  On the way up I-295, imagine Elyse and Brian’s surprise when I said, “I think I left my hat at Maryland House,” in that oh, crap sort of way.  Elyse suggested turning around to get it, but we were too far afield to do that.  To turn around would be tantamount to cancelling our trip to return to Harford County, Maryland, just north of Baltimore.  So we continued on, hatless.  After all, we would pass Maryland House coming home, so we could see if it was still there at that time.  I know what I did – I set my hat down on the table next to me when we were having lunch, and I walked off without it.

Arriving in Asbury Park, we located the pinball museum, but first, I wanted to check out a place from my childhood that I had missed during my 2013 trip: Asbury Youth Center, which was a children’s clothing store run by my Uncle Skippy.  I remember Uncle Skippy, and remember his being pretty awesome.  Many of the outfits that you saw me in on the Childhood Days page, such as this one came from Uncle Skippy’s store.  The store closed in the late 1980s when Uncle Skippy retired, and I hadn’t been back there since.  So a quick Google search revealed the address to be 660 Cookman Avenue, and it was off to the races.  This is what the building that housed Uncle Skippy’s store looks like today:

The location of Uncle Skippy's store, now a restaurant called "Taka"

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Soda, toys, and a Kroger like no other…

April 6, 2017, 2:07 PM

So, as promised, here’s the rest of the trip to Richmond that Elyse and I made.

After leaving the Science Museum, we headed over to Carytown.  Elyse wanted me to see Rocket Fizz, which is where she got some bottles of “Stalinade”, a strawberry-flavored soda that, as I said on Instagram at the time, was “Communism in a glass.  Definitely tastes the way that I would expect communism to taste: red.”  They have a very large selection of unique sodas, and some with novelty flavors, and some with novelty names.  I ended up buying a six-pack of novelty flavors.  Here was the take:

Sweet corn, ranch dressing, butter, San Francisco fog, grass, and bacon with maple syrup.

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A few career anniversaries in the next month…

March 23, 2017, 2:04 AM

The next month contains no less than three career anniversaries of mine.  March 31 marks ten years since I was fired from Walmart, April 15 marks the 15th anniversary of when CFW Information Services (then Telegate USA) closed and I was laid off, and then April 18 marks ten years from the day that I was hired at Food & Water Watch.  Rememberances of jobs past, I suppose.

The anniversary that still gets me is the CFW one.  I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years.  That was my first job, which I started at age 16, in June 1997.  It was a call center job, processing inbound calls for customers seeking directory assistance services in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, DC, Delaware, and New Jersey.  Then Pennsylvania got added to the mix.  Then we started doing two national services – one used by bill collectors doing skiptracing, and a wholesale service for the public through a variety of different providers.  When the national services came online, I mostly did the bill collector service.  That was a good job.  The dress code was casual (after all, who saw you?) and you worked at a computer all day.

That job did, however, have a turning point.  In June 2000, parent company CFW Communications made a major change to its corporate structure, merging with another regional telecommunications company in Virginia to form nTelos.  As part of that same deal, Information Services was out.  Our division would not become part of the new nTelos, as we were sold to Telegate, a company based in Munich, Germany.  I remember watching this company, which had thrived under CFW ownership, be slowly destroyed under Telegate ownership.  If I recall, Telegate acquired our company with the intention of gaining a foothold in the US marketplace, with the desire to eventually launch a “11880” style service in the US like they did in Germany.  The “11880” style service never happened, and things basically stayed the same.  Meanwhile, for a company with three Virginia call centers (Clifton Forge, Waynesboro, and Winchester), their choice of a headquarters location was surprising: Plano, Texas.  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.  The management in Texas also seemed to come and go on a fairly regular basis, as one after the other either abruptly quit or was dismissed.  It was no surprise when Telegate started closing call centers as the business started to drop off (probably due to the hideous management of the company), as Clifton Forge, Waynesboro, and Winchester all closed within about 6-7 months of each other.  I was away at college at the time that my center closed, and never received any official notification from Telegate of the center’s closing, but rather, was notified by some of my soon-to-be-former coworkers.  It just so happened that I would be in town the weekend before the closing, and so I stopped by to pick up my belongings and turn in my equipment.  And that was the end of my first job.

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Categories: CFW, Walmart, Work

I have been to Pennsylvania a lot lately…

August 27, 2016, 6:27 AM

In the span of two weeks, Elyse and I went to Pennsylvania three different times.  We went to Hanover on the 8th, Harrisburg on the 11th, and then Harrisburg again on the 18th.  Two of the trips were to scout out some potential sites for photography, as well as get something out of our system from the earlier bus trip, and then one was to bring the bus back for my friend.

The first trip was to Hanover.  This was one of those “seeing America” kind of trips, about catching a shot of whatever we found interesting, as well as scouting locations for further attention with our SLR cameras when the weather was more accommodating (it was hot and humid out – yuck).  Elyse met me at my house, and then we left for Hanover via Westminster.  On the way up to Westminster, we both knew about a certain street off of Georgia Avenue in Carroll County near Eldersburg and Sykesville (yes, I refer to Route 97 as “Georgia Avenue” all the way up to Gettysburg), and had to get a photo of it with Elyse.  Check it out:

Elyse Court

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In retail, it’s made abundantly clear that the employee is never right…

August 16, 2016, 8:12 PM

The recent discussion in this space about bad employee behavior made me think of a few incidents that occurred during my time at Walmart back in 2004 that defied logic. These were incidents where I got pulled into the back office and chewed out for something that I had no control over due to policies and procedures in place at the time. One of these even was handled as a “coaching”, short for “Coaching for Improvement”, which is Walmart’s term for its disciplinary process. If you ask me, it’s pretty messed up to discipline someone over something that they have no control over. It’s where you realize that as an employee, you are never right, even when you follow protocol to the letter, and you are also responsible for your managers’ mistakes.

The first incident occurred in the summer of 2004. I got into work, and my boss, the assistant manager over the front end, pulled me aside to speak with me as soon as I clocked in. His first words were, “This is your verbal warning,” i.e. this was a coaching. Lovely. I was then told that they had caught me on camera at the service desk accepting a stolen item for a return. They explained what happened, i.e. that a person had taken a vacuum cleaner off of the shelf, walked it over to the service desk, presented a receipt, and got a their money back for it from me.

While at first glance it might seem like an open-and-shut case, and therefore grounds to discipline me for accepting a stolen item for a return, if you look more deeply into it, that argument starts to fall apart. My job at the service desk was to accept and process returns. In my store, a mid-2000s Supercenter, the service desk was in the middle of the front end, in a space that I referred to as a cave, since it was a windowless room that was only open to the rest of the store on one side.

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Categories: Walmart, Work

I always thought that an important rule of retail was not to get into arguments with your customers…

August 2, 2016, 12:32 PM

Do you ever have those days where some people’s behaviors defy logic?  Such is what happened to me at the Giant Food store in Leisure World yesterday.  Generally speaking, if someone is handing you money, it’s generally not a good idea to start arguing with them over something minor to the point of losing the sale.  It was one of those occasions where I was bothered enough by the treatment to write the company about it.  This is what I wrote:

While I was shopping at the Leisure World Giant store, I was very surprised about the treatment that I received from an employee wearing a purple shirt named Ken.  I was buying a single item, and, after seeing an older woman go through the Solution Center for checkout with a single item, I followed suit.  I was very surprised to hear Ken absolutely refuse to check me out for my one item, citing a policy, for which I was unable to locate signage anywhere in the store, that you can’t check out at the solution center.  Ken then proceeded to argue with me over this alleged policy, when it would have taken less time to not argue and just complete the sale.  The store ultimately lost the sale on account of Ken, as the item was not worth getting into an argument over.  Even more surprising was that, with the checkout lines backed up into the aisle, the solution center does not help relieve the pressure on the regular checkouts when they are backed up, such as was the case today.  I have always praised Giant in the past for its level of good customer service, which is generally higher than its peers in the market.  I hope that this sort of behavior, with employees who get into arguments with customers over extremely minor things, is not a “new normal” for Giant.

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Nobody can rope a wheel like I can…

July 30, 2016, 10:52 AM

This past Thursday, Elyse and I went up to Harrisburg with another friend to help test drive a bus.  My friend had been searching for a bus to convert into an RV, and located a school bus as a potential candidate.  I was there because I had a CDL, and therefore could legally drive the bus, and knew what I was talking about when it came to looking the bus over and getting a feel for how it drove.  Considering that my work as of late has had me around rail vehicles rather than buses, I was excited, because I hadn’t driven a bus since April.

The bus was a 2007 Thomas Built HDX.  For those not familiar, that is a transit-style school bus, i.e. the kind with a flat front.  I definitely knew how to drive those, because transit buses have flat fronts, plus I first learned how to drive a bus on a Thomas Built MVP, which is an older version of this bus.  Only thing I did have to get used to with this bus was that the turn signal control was on the steering column, whereas on a transit bus, the turn signals are on the floor.  School buses should have them on the floor as well, for the same reason that they’re on the floor for transit: it allows you to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.  Clearly, whoever placed the stalk for the turn signals had never operated a bus before, because it did feel like something of an awkward reach to operate the turn signal.

I was worried that I might have lost some of my bus-handling skill in the three months that had passed since the last time I had operated a bus, but once I got a feel for the bus, no problem.  As I discovered after being out for six weeks for that broken foot, it’s just like riding a bike.  However, I did have to get used to the pedals on this bus.  Unlike every other bus that I had driven, where the accelerator and the brake pedals are attached to the floor, these were hung from above, like a car.  Go figure.  But once I got over that, no problem.

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