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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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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

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

August 16, 2016, 9:12 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

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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The only constant is change…

April 5, 2016, 6:06 PM

On March 30 and 31, I went on a road trip down to Stuarts Draft with Elyse, where I showed her a whole bunch of stuff.  I showed her the mountain, we visited my ex-store, we went to Staunton Mall, and we saw JMU.  All in all, a fun trip.  The lesson to be learned from this trip, however, is that change is inevitable, as many things that I had hoped to show Elyse had changed, and other things were going to change.

Coming down from Maryland via US 29, we visited Afton Mountain.  I have photographed this area many, many many times before.  So I more or less know what’s there.  I did spot a few new things in the process of going about things, like this vintage television:

An abandoned RCA XL-100 television set

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I feel like I was shooting the photos for those motivational posters…

October 25, 2015, 11:12 PM

This past Thursday, I went up to High Rock, which is a rock outcropping on South Mountain in Pen Mar, Maryland, in Washington County near the Pennsylvania border.  It reminds me a little bit of both Humpback Rock in Virginia, and the Aqueduct Bridge stub in DC.  Like Humpback Rock, it’s high on a mountaintop, however, unlike Humpback Rock, you can drive up to it and park right next to it, rather than parking down below and then hiking a mile straight uphill.  Like the Aqueduct Bridge, it’s covered in graffiti and a popular overlook point, but unlike the Aqueduct Bridge, it’s a natural feature rather than manmade.  I went up there with the intent of scouting out the location for a potential future set for the Photography section on Schumin Web.  I knew it had a view, but I wasn’t so sure about it.  I arrived just before 5:00 PM, and stayed for about an hour and a half.  While there, I let my curiosity lead the way, as I checked things out at the site and just kind of followed what I found interesting.  I don’t know which intrigued me more: the formation itself, the view, or the graffiti.

So here’s what some of the take from this outing looked like:

View from High Rock facing approximately north, towards Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The bit of stone in the foreground is actually manmade. As much as I can tell, this is some of what remains of an observatory that once stood at this site.
View from High Rock facing approximately north, towards Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  The bit of stone in the foreground is actually manmade.  As much as I can tell, this is some of what remains of an observatory that once stood at this site.

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Sometimes you have those weekends where you just have to get out of the house…

June 11, 2014, 6:06 PM

Ever get that feeling of “I just have to get out of the house”?  I recently had that feeling, where I just needed a change of scenery for a little bit, and so I planned a weekend trip down to Stuarts Draft to visit the parents, going down Friday, and coming back Sunday.  They were, as always, delighted to see me, and on the whole, we had a good time.  I also made some extra space in my house, as, on Mom’s request, I brought my sister’s old bicycle back to my parents’ house.  Gave me some practice in “beheading” a bicycle by removing the front wheel, and then reattaching it at my destination.  But it travels much more easily without the front wheel:

The bicycle has been beheaded!
The freshly-liberated front wheel.

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Walmart worker strike on Black Friday?

November 20, 2012, 1:29 AM

So like many people, I got wind that there are strikes planned at Walmart stores this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  These leave me with very mixed feelings.  First of all, some of you may recall that I am a former Walmart employee, who worked for the company for a little over three years, from late 2003 to early 2007.  My employment ended there when I was fired for what I would consider to be questionable reasons.  And then I have made it no secret that I am quite pro-union.  I think that Walmart employees need a union badly, because Walmart is not looking out for its employees’ interests, no matter what kind of anti-union propaganda they throw at their employees, and their anti-union manuals prove it.  Thus employees must stand up for themselves.  But at the same time, I’m not sure about these tactics, because I fear that the groups behind these actions may, though well-intentioned, be leading these people off of the proverbial cliff.

First of all, on the matter of Walmart and what they provide their employees, I don’t think I ever made more than $7.50 per hour the whole time I was there.  For the first six months of my employment there, the insurance was a joke.  Full-time employees were eligible for the real insurance only after six months’ service, and before that, you were offered coverage through a company that I’d never heard of, and it was basically a reimbursement plan.  In other words, you had a plan where you would go to the doctor, pay out of pocket, and maybe – just maybe – the insurance company would pay you back for it.  I never had to use that insurance, thankfully, so I can’t speak for how well it worked out.  But it felt like a scam from the get-go.  After six months’ service, I got the real insurance, which was Blue Cross.  That was better than the junk insurance that they offered the new employees, but not by much.  If I recall, the package for one person was around $15 per pay period, and it came with a $1,000 deductible.  Yes, before the insurance would actually pay for anything, you had to spend a thousand dollars.  Thus in most years, you paid $390 per year for the privilege of paying out of pocket for all of your health care expenses anyway.  The only time the insurance actually paid for anything was in 2005 when I had that pilonidal cyst taken out, and I hit my deductible in February (yes, $1000 in medical bills in a month’s time).  And even then, it didn’t cover much, and the copays were pretty ridiculous.  I will say that I don’t know how much Obamacare will affect what Walmart provides its employees, though, and this information comes from my experience from several years ago.

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Categories: Walmart

This goes to show that people are really starting to get it regarding the 99 percent!

October 21, 2011, 12:02 AM

So after work today, I spent some time with the “Occupy DC” group doing an anti-Walmart demonstration at Union Station. Basically, this was a demonstration held on the occasion of a $1,000 per plate fundraising dinner attended by a number of big names as far as the rich-bastard types go. Here’s what the description that I got said about it:

Rob Walton, son of Sam and chairman of the board of Walmart Stores, is going to be speaking in DC at a $1000/plate fundraising dinner tonight (Oct. 20) for Conservation International, an organization that helps big corporations greenwash their image. Respect DC is teaming up with Occupy DC to plan an action outside of this dinner to get out an anti Walmart message out to attendees, including Mr. Walton. Apparently Northrop Grumman and Harrison Ford (who is on CI’s board) will be there too.

First of all, I find it wonderful to finally publicly demonstrate against my former employer in a public setting. There are many, many, many reasons that Walmart is the scum of the earth, but considering how they chewed me up and spit me out, I have extra incentive to sock it to them.

So at 6:30, people started gathering at Union Station. This was staged a bit like a flash mob. People showed up, and blended in. Then someone blew a horn, and the demonstration began. The demonstration was very much anti-Walmart and full of energy.

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Categories: Activism, Walmart

“Oh, it’s terrible! The King has been transformed! Please find the Magic Wand so we can change him back.”

November 27, 2010, 4:31 PM

First of all, I admit – the title doesn’t mean much in relation to this entry, except that it perhaps reflects that I’ve been playing too much Super Mario Bros. 3 on my Super Nintendo lately. Regardless, this Journal entry has been a long time in coming, since this is about a trip I took to Stuarts Draft two weeks ago. All I have to say is, hey, I’ve been busy. But it’s also somewhat fitting that I post this entry this weekend, since this was “Thanksgiving” with the parents a couple of weeks ahead of the holiday. Traffic is a real pain, you see, and this obviates the need to mess with it. Have you ever driven US 29 in Virginia on Thanksgiving weekend? It’s no walk in the park.

On Friday the 12th, after driving perhaps a shade too fast the whole way down, I arrived at Stuarts Draft Middle School. After all, Mom was there, and I hadn’t seen her new classroom yet. Mom was recently switched from sixth to eighth grade, and so she moved rooms as a result, from Room 24 to Room 1. And here it is:

Mom's new classroom, Room 1

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Someone explain to me why people think that I lose my right to criticize Wal-Mart, a horrible corporation that ultimately fired me, because I once worked there.

April 14, 2010, 8:49 PM

Someone explain that to me. Someone explain to me why I should not criticize Wal-Mart because I once worked there, despite having been treated rather poorly while there, and ultimately fired for nonsense reasons. Someone explain to me why the fact that they once employed me makes them above criticism as far as I should be concerned.

I was on the phone with my mother today, as I usually am right after work while walking to the Metro, and the conversation today turned to Wal-Mart. I came down pretty hard on the Wal-Mart issue this time, as I was quick to call them a horrible corporation that does not buy American, squeezing their suppliers so hard that many of them are forced to move production overseas to cut costs in order to meet Wal-Mart’s demands.

And let’s not forget Wal-Mart’s stance on labor relations, as written on page two of Labor Relations and You at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center #6022: “Wal-Mart is opposed to unionization of its associates. Any suggestion that the Company is neutral on the subject or that it encourages associates to join labor organizations is not true.” In addition, from the same document, “We firmly believe we are capable of running our own Company without any assistance from an outside third party.” Additionally, from page two of A Manager’s Toolbox To Remaining Union Free, it states, “Wal-Mart is strongly opposed to third-party representation. We are not anti-union; we are pro-associate. We believe in maintaining an environment of open communication among all associates, both hourly and management. At Wal-Mart, we respect the individual rights of our associates and encourage everyone to express his/her ideas, suggestions, comments or concerns. Because we believe in maintaining an environment of open communication through the use of the Open Door policy, we do not believe there is a need for third-party representation. It is our position every associate can speak for him/herself without having to pay his/her hard-earned money to a union in order to be listened to and have issues resolved.”

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Categories: Family, Walmart

It’s been three years since “Firing Day”…

March 31, 2010, 9:40 PM

Today marks three years from the day that I got fired from Wal-Mart back in 2007. That was an interesting experience. I am thoroughly convinced that I was not fired for anything I actually did. After all, the stuff that they accused me of allegedly happened in the store, while I was actually off the clock and off the premises. I believe I was probably viewed as a threat for my various left-wing political views, with a little help from Michelle Malkin and her goons to bring it to light. And let’s admit – by my count, during my time at Wal-Mart, I participated in eight different black blocs. I can say with certainty that Wal-Mart would have disapproved of at least one of them – the one at the Million Worker March. After all, by Wal-Mart’s view, unions are the spawn of Satan, and must be stopped at all costs.

Still, the day that I was fired was quite a day. First of all, the night before, my friend Katie had asked me to join her mother and herself for dinner on the evening of the 31st. I had to decline, since I was scheduled to work the Service Desk from 12 noon to 9 PM. Then at noon, I came in and started my shift. I lasted 90 minutes – just long enough to clean up the Service Desk (those bastards). Then I got called into the back office, and as soon as I saw the green piece of paper on the desk, I knew where that meeting was going. For those who don’t know, Wal-Mart at that time printed their “Exit Interview” forms on green paper, commonly called a “green sheet”. Essentially, it’s your walking papers. And they gave them to me. In short, I had to hand over my maroon “Four Star Cashier” vest and my name badge, and then clean out my locker. I did, however, get to keep my company-issued box cutter, which they never asked for and I never gave them back. And I still use it, too, for that matter. But after cleaning out my locker, they were all, “Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you!” and escorted me out of the store.

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Categories: Walmart

I am ready to be snowed in…

February 5, 2010, 12:22 AM

I am ready to be snowed in this weekend. The Sable is safely parked, and the cabinets are full. I am set. My castle is stocked up. Bring it on, nature.

Otherwise, today I discovered that adults can be just as bad as children when it comes to getting revved up about a potential snow day. All I heard today was, “Do you think we’re going to get tomorrow off?” I was all, noooooooo, since I think that the Feds have already decided on their course of action. They’re operating under an unscheduled leave policy for Friday, which for us basically means show up. Now whether they close early once the snow starts coming down is another story.

Meanwhile, speaking of snow days, when I was in school, I always just wanted to strangle those teachers that acted like it was our fault for missing school due to bad winter weather when we grumbled about having to go to school on Memorial Day for make-up days. These teachers that would say, “You had your Memorial Day back in January!” Big help. Like it’s my fault that it snowed. I remember my seventh grade year was hell for that kind of thing. We had something like 16 snow days that year. Thus we had no days off of any kind except for weekends from the last snow day in March through to like June 16 plus one Saturday (yes, we had one make-up day on a Saturday). And when you couple that with the fact that my homeroom teacher was a real d—–bag, it made for a very rough year. This particular teacher even made fun of me (in a mean way) in front of the whole class when he presented me my perfect attendance certificate at the end of the year. I had better attendance than he did that year, and he made fun of me

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Categories: Snowmageddon, Walmart, WMATA

So it seems to be the case that the Waynesboro Wal-Mart is that special place where managers’ careers go to die…

November 27, 2009, 11:03 PM

So Katie and I had fun today, running around Staunton and Waynesboro doing part trolling and part shopping. After I picked Katie up, we first went over to troll the Waynesboro Wal-Mart, where we used to work. After saying hello to some of the people we used to work with, we also ran into the new store manager. The manager is now a guy named Nathan, and he looks like he should be wearing a pinstriped suit and a fedora rather than a Wal-Mart name badge. Seriously, he looked like a prohibition-era gangster.

So with Al Capone as the new manager, the question becomes, what happened to the previous manager, who was there when I was still there? Turns out that he is “no longer with the company”. In other words, he probably got canned, because when management types say that someone is no longer with the company and leave it at that, you know that someone’s career had a “fiery” end. Otherwise, if they left on good terms, people will generally say something like, “Bob left to take a new position at Company XYZ.” When I visited my ex-store not long after getting hired at my current job, I found out that the management at the store was saying that I was “no longer with the company”. I personally wish they would have just said that they fired me. Let’s be honest now, since I’m pretty open about it. Especially since in my case, they made stuff up and rammed it through a coaching process. Really ethical people over at Wal-Mart.

But anyway, that means that the Waynesboro Wal-Mart is three for three. Their current manager is number four, and the last three all did not leave the Waynesboro Wal-Mart with their Wal-Mart career intact. Thus the Waynesboro Wal-Mart seems to be the place where management careers go to die. No one’s career leaves there alive, it seems.

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The parking lot known as Interstate 66…

November 25, 2009, 10:07 PM

First of all, greetings from Stuarts Draft, where I’ve not been in six months. I’m here until Sunday, and left straight from work, which was interesting.

I tried something new this time around. I drove into work, worked a half day, and then left for Stuarts Draft straight from the office. For that, I took 16th Street from P Street to K Street, and then took K Street to I-66. Then I took 66 to the end, where I caught I-81 down to Staunton, and then from there, moseyed around a few back roads to Stuarts Draft and my parents’ house.

Driving into work and then leaving straight from work certainly has its ups and downs. On one hand, I can load up in the morning and then go, and not have to go back home to pick up the car, i.e. go north from the office back to Maryland just to immediately turn south again to go to Virginia. Then the drop-at-Vienna-the-night-before bit is a shade complicated. Recall that the drop-at-Vienna method involves positioning the car with most of the luggage in Virginia the night before, taking Metro and a bus back to Maryland, and then going to work like normal the next day. Then after work, take Metro to Vienna rather than Glenmont, grab the car, and zing off to Stuarts Draft. The idea there was to avoid the inside-the-beltway traffic by putting the car ahead of that and taking Metro to meet the car, but it’s just a bit too much trouble, and involves a lot of advance planning and coordination of what needs to be where. Plus it’s weird stashing the car and one’s luggage in another state for a night.

The whole idea is dealing with the traffic most effciently when there’s a workday involved. See, going into work precludes use of the Beltway for the trip out, since work is in Dupont Circle, near downtown Washington. One would think that it would have been less congested, but I-66 was slow all the way to Vienna. Seriously, I was on the phone with Mom part of the way, and was like, “I’m going eight miles per hour. Oh, wait, now ten. Wait… five.” Yeah, that slow. On the freeway. At least I had people on the phone, plus Randi Rhodes when I didn’t have anyone on the phone.

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