Auto Service

I don’t think I should take my car to the dealer for service work anymore. It is getting too expensive. It seems as if every time I take my car in for a simple oil change, there is something else that requires immediate attention and several hundred dollars to fix.

No matter how often I replace the battery belts, or how frequently I top off my headlamp fluid, whenever I take my car to the dealer, they tell me it needs to be done again. I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything underhanded, but I’m starting to think that they may be taking advantage of me.

Last week, I took my car in for service. The odometer told me that it had been 6000 miles since the last time the oil was changed, so I decided to take the car in for its 3000-mile checkup.

Before I went, I checked online and found a coupon for $30 dollars off a regular service and oil change. Last time I went, the basic service cost me $119. So, this time, when I gave the coupon to the service technician (Brad was the name on his shirt), he told me my oil change would only be $119.

Now, I am not an expert on coupons, but in general, I know that they should make the price go lower. I asked the technician why it was the exact same price with a coupon as it was last time I came in without a coupon. Brad said they must have charged me the coupon rate even though I didn’t have a coupon. I asked him why they waste money making coupons if I could get the discount rate without one. Then I asked if I was paying extra money for my oil change to pay for those wasted coupons that nobody was using.

Brad said he was going to get me some coffee and walked away. Before I could tell him I didn’t want any coffee, he was gone.

About ten minutes later, my new service technician, Mike, said that he would be helping me. Apparently, Brad had gone home with a headache.

Mike took my information and my car keys, then told me my car would be ready to go in about an hour. This was at 9:30 AM. At 11:30 AM, I was sitting in the waiting room watching my toenails grow, when Mike finally told me my car was done.

I asked him if everything was okay with the car, and he told me everything was fine. Then he handed me a bill for $150. I asked why it was higher than the $119 that Brad had quoted me.

Mike said, “We put on new windshield wipers. They needed to be replaced and they cost $30.”

I said, “You just told me everything was okay on the car.”

“Right. Everything except the wipers, and we fixed those.”

I asked if there was anything else, and he said, “No.”

I handed Mike my credit card. He thanked me, and then said, “You’re going to need new brake pads. They’re pretty low so you should replace them as soon as possible.”

“Brake pads?” I asked

“Yes. Brake pads.” I must have had a confused look on my face because he continued. “They make the car stop. You know, so if there is a baby duck or something in the road you don’t run it over.”

“Baby duck?”

“Right. Baby duck. Why? Do you have something against baby ducks?”

I assured him that I had no animosity toward ducks, I was just surprised that I needed brake pads when he had so recently told me that my car was perfectly fine. I asked once again if there was anything more I needed to know about my car.

Mike said that there was absolutely nothing else he needed to tell me. He ran my credit card and handed me a receipt to sign, then said, “Did I mention that you should replace your tires? The tread is worn out and you really should get four new tires.”

“Tires?” I sighed.

“Yeah. If they get too bald, you’ll skid on the road when you’re trying to stop, and you could lose control of the car.”

“I don’t want tires,” I told Mike.

He glared at me and said, “That’s exactly what I would expect to hear from a duck killer.”

By the time I finally got away from the dealership, my entire day was ruined. I had started out that morning thinking that I was going to save thirty dollars getting my oil changed. After spending a few hours with Mike, I now needed to come up with $500 to replace my brake pads, and $800 for new tires.

But the money wasn’t even the worst part.

The worst part of my day was the fact that during my entire drive home, I was terrified I was going to run over a baby duck, and somehow Mike was going to find out about it.

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Saving Daylight

I want to talk about Daylight Saving Time. Spring forward. Fall back. What the hell is that? And just what exactly are we saving?

The typical story I have heard about Daylight Saving, is that it was enacted during the summer months so that farmers had more daylight to work in the fields. This turns out to be a big load of garbage. Farmers had nothing to do with this phenomenon. If a farmer wants more daylight to work, he just gets up when the sun rises regardless of what the clock says. Farmers don’t need an artificial change in time to get their work done. Besides, it is incredibly difficult to change the settings on a rooster.

With a little research on Wikipedia, I discovered the real story. Apparently, Ben Franklin came up with the original idea so that, during the summer, there was more daylight in the evenings. This wasn’t a terrible idea, since in the late 1700’s after the sun went down it was too dark to do much besides go home and barricade yourself indoors until the next morning.

Today, however, we have electricity and batteries. We have flashlights, headlights, and street lamps. Night time isn’t the mandatory end of the day that it used to be.

If only somebody in Ben Franklin’s time had discovered electricity, maybe Daylight Saving Time never would have happened. Someone like… Um. Oh, yeah.

So, maybe once upon a time there was a reason for it. An extra hour of daylight in the evening could be very useful while you’re trying to shoe one more horse before closing down ye olde blacksmith shoppe. But, why is it still here? I have worked all hours of the day and night in my career, and changing the clock forward or back one hour has never made any difference to me other than totally screwing up my sleeping patterns for a couple weeks each time.

I also used to work weekends, which meant if you forgot to set your clock ahead the night before, you would be late for work on Sunday. And apparently, it happens a lot. Every year, at least one person would show up to work an hour late on the first day of Daylight Saving Time. It became such an expected event that we started a pool the week before and bet on who was going to forget. I won $200 in 2003.

I bet on myself that year.

For me, the biggest headache is making sure that every clock in the house is adjusted so that it reflects the correct time. My phone and computer update automatically, but everything else requires me to adjust it by hand. Every six months, I am reminded just how many damn clocks I have in the house.

The bedroom alarm clock is of course everyone’s priority. Forget to adjust that one and we have the situation I outlined above. But, in addition to the alarm clock, I have two mantle clocks and the cuckoo clock in the living room. There are clocks on the microwave, the oven display, and electronic toys throughout the house. I have several watches, including a couple of pocket watches, that get adjusted over a period of months, since I forget about them until I decide to pull one out of a drawer and wear it. My greatest joy in life is pulling out a watch I haven’t worn in over six months and discovering that it is displaying the correct time and I don’t have to mess with it.

It really doesn’t take much to make me happy.

I also have to change the clocks in every one of the cars. I always have a little panic attack when I climb into my truck to drive to a one o’clock meeting somewhere and the digital clock in the dashboard says it’s already one-thirty.

And just when I think I’ve adjusted every clock within a five-hundred mile radius, I discover something I’ve missed. For example, this morning, my wife woke me up to tell me that she almost froze to death getting out of the shower because the heater never turned on. Yup, you guessed it. Another damned clock. Our thermostat has a little timer that tells it when to turn on and turn off.

One hour. Twice a year. I find the whole process to be a major pain in the nethers. But, don’t get me wrong. I’m not proposing that we do away with Daylight Saving Time. I think that we should actually expand on it. Instead of jumping forward an hour in the spring, I suggest that we jump an entire day.

Or better yet, one whole week.

I think we should all jump ahead and completely skip the third week of March this year. Go to your calendar and black out March 17th through the 23rd. No one is going to miss it, and it means that we will get to Easter a whole lot faster than usual. To make up for it, we can just repeat the last week of October. That will make all the kids happy since they can go Trick or Treating two weeks in a row. It’s a win-win.

And it’s a whole lot easier to tear a page out of your weekly desk calendar that it is to adjust all your clocks. So, if you hate Daylight Saving Time as much as I do, I just solved all your problems. You’re welcome. And, if you need to talk me, don’t bother trying to get in touch with me next week.

I’m springing forward.

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Burn Baby, Burn

I live in a house surrounded by five acres of land. The space is nice, and I must say that I do enjoy working outside, gardening, tending the fruit trees, and puttering around the property. One of the negative parts of owning five acres, however, is the fact that, in the Fall, I can’t just rake a few leaves, toss them into a can and put them out on the curb for the garbage truck to pick up. There is just too much clutter that accumulates from all the trees, bushes, and other plants.

Instead, I tend to gather up this type of yard debris periodically and deposit it into large piles around the property to be dealt with at a later time. If I ignore it long enough, rows of these brush heaps accumulate all over the place. It looks like a family of beavers moved in and decided they were going to start building their dams on dry land. Tangles of sticks, brush, and tree limbs end up forming an extended barrier between my house and my neighbor.

Which I suppose isn’t a terrible thing. You know what they say about “good fences.”

And, just like a beaver dam, these ignored piles of rubbish end up teeming with animal life. Every bird, mouse, lizard, and stray cat from miles around decides these piles are the perfect places to establish a home base. I’ve even seen a hawk perched on top of one of my brush piles. It was probably just waiting for one of the aforementioned critters to try to make a run for it.

I have to admit, there is good news regarding these growing mounds of rubbish. Once or twice each year, I get to have a fire. And I don’t mean a little fire where you can stand around it and roast a few marshmallows. Oh, no. I mean a great big, awesome, signal flare into space kind of fire. The kind of fire that absolutely delights the pyromaniac little kid deep inside me.

The best part is that it is completely legal! In fact, the fire department wants you to dispose of your yard waste and issues burn permits for you to do it. Had I tried to do something similar at my old home, I’m quite certain the neighbors would have made a big deal about it and called the police. Apartment living can be so restrictive sometimes.

A few weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure of doing a yard-waste burn. It’s a lot of fun, but there are a few things that have to be done before you put match to wood. The first thing you have to do before setting fire to your yard is you need to call the fire department and let them know what you are doing.

When I called them last time to let them know I was going to be lighting a fire, the woman who answered the phone asked, “What is your address, please?  The fire truck needs to know where to go to put out what’s left of your house.”

You’ve got to love dispatchers with a sense of humor. At least, I think she was being funny. Or maybe she knew me somehow and was just preparing for the inevitable.

The next step is to set up a folding chair nearby stocked with sodas, snacks and a couple of cigars. Yup, I said cigars. I figure if I’m going to spend the next four to six house inhaling smoke, I want some of it to be intentional. There is just something a little bit Zen about smoking a cigar while you watch a ten-foot wall of flame swirling around right in front of you. My psychologist has other opinions, but he wasn’t there so, I’ll deal with his disapproval later.

Last, but most important, is getting the brush pile lit. Usually this isn’t a big deal. This year, however, we had just had a heavy rain the night before and everything was wet and soggy. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to light pile of wet wood and leaves, but it can be tricky. A lighter just isn’t going to get the job done.

Fortunately, I can be very resourceful. After rummaging through the garage and locating two cans of lighter fluid, a large bag of charcoal, and an old road flare, starting a fire was no longer a problem. And, you don’t have to be MacGyver to figure out the best possible combination of those items. Less than ten minutes later, me and my one remaining eyebrow were sitting comfortably in the camp chair smoking a cigar and sipping on a diet soda.

I spent the next few hours evicting wildlife from their homes as I dismantled the various piles of debris that weren’t on fire and threw them into the one that was. It’s a good workout and I broke a sweat a couple of times as I lugged some of the larger branches around. Okay that’s not completely true. I did start to sweat a few times, but it was less about the workout and more about me being fat and out of shape and standing too close to an 800-degree blast furnace. Telling myself that I was getting a workout, though, makes me feel better about the rest of the day just sitting in a chair and pushing Oreos in my mouth while giggling at the big fire I made.

At about four o’clock that afternoon, it was all over. There was nothing left to burn. I grabbed the garden hose and flooded the last of the hot coals smoldering on the ground. The gout of steam and ash as the cold water hit the glowing embers was almost as high as the original flames.

As I stirred and re-flooded the now dead burn site, I saw one of the fire trucks from our local station drive by the front of my house. It felt a little bit personal. The team was probably just making the rounds and checking the addresses of all the people that had called in a request to burn that day, so, it’s possible I’m just being paranoid.

But, I could have sworn that the guy driving the firetruck had a disappointed look on his face.

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Scouting Out the Perfect Cookie

Tagalong

When I was still working in an office environment, it was about this time every year that I had to start hiding from co-workers. There were about a half dozen or so people in my office that had daughters in the Girl Scouts and every year they would ask me to buy cookies from their kids. I felt like every encounter with these parents resulted in an awkward conversation.

Co-worker: “Do you want to buy some cookies? My kid is in the Girl Scouts and gets free shoe laces if she sells the most boxes.”

Me: “Maybe. Let me think about it.”

Co-worker: “What’s to think about? They’re delicious. How many do you want?”

Me: “I’ll get back to you.”

Co-worker: “Here, just take the sign-up sheet. Write down what you want and then give it back to me.”

Me: “Uh, sure.”

Then I had to find a time that they were away from their desk and sneak the form back to them so they couldn’t question me about why I hadn’t ordered anything.

I used to receive group e-mails, get post-its on my desk, and find sign-up sheets lining the walls in the break room. While I do enjoy the cookies and have no objection to supporting a fund raiser for the Girl Scouts, it always meant having to choose which kid to buy from. I could either buy a box from six different people, or get several boxes from one scout and ignore the rest. Either way, someone was going to think that I was cheap, or just rude.

I used to think that this annual dance was a problem. I didn’t know real problems until I retired from that job and started working out of my home. Now, the cookies don’t come to me anymore. I have to go to them.

I can’t just wait for a cookie order form to fall into my lap, I have to get in my car and start cruising the shopping malls like a junkie trying to find his next fix. And it’s a lot harder than it looks.  When you don’t want cookies, there is a Girl Scout fund raising stand every six feet, but when you’re actively looking there isn’t anything but empty sidewalks for miles.

Last week, I decided to go look for some Tagalongs, because I’m human and who doesn’t want a block of peanut butter and chocolate every now and then? Those calorie bombs are delicious.

I pulled into a parking lot at a local grocery store and saw three kids covered in green outfits and merit badges with two adults hanging out on the sidewalk. They were all standing beside a silver van and loading a folding table into the vehicle.

I jumped out of my car and asked if they were still selling, but was told that they were done for the day and headed home. I suggested they could make one more sale before they left, but one of the parents said they were mostly sold out and what was left was already packed away.

I repeated my request slightly more emphatically, but it was met with equal resistance. I may have said something slightly inappropriate at that moment as I suddenly realized that two of the kids were crying and the third had simply turned around and run away through the parking lot. I decided it was time for me to leave.

Being arrested for verbally assaulting a pack of pre-teens is not exactly at the top of my to-do list.

I drove by the same location a few days later, hoping it would be a different group of people manning the cookie table, but I saw a couple familiar faces and decided to keep driving. I think one of the girls might have recognized me, but that could just be my own guilty conscience.

I found another cookie table a few miles from the first, but when I asked if they took credit cards, they told me they could only accept cash. I very politely explained that I did not carry cash and I would greatly appreciate it if they could please take a check or let me use my credit card. I was again forced to leave empty handed, fleeing a pack of crying children.

I really need to curb my use of profanity in the presence of minors.

Despite my failure to procure any cookies, I did learn three things this year during my hunt:

One) Thin mints are as addictive as crack and someone should be trying to find out exactly what is being baked into those things.

Two) Workplace fund raisers are only annoying until you realize that you actually want the items being sold.

And Three) Screaming at a 12-year old is counterproductive to reaching a desired outcome.

Okay, being a parent of two girls, I already knew that last one. Maybe I should clarify, screaming at someone else’s 12-year old is counterproductive. And, probably slightly illegal.

As of now, despite my searching, I have still not located any Girl Scout cookies for personal consumption. I am not sure that I will be able to find any before this year’s window closes, especially since I have been banned from the stands I have so far been able to locate.

I believe my only remaining option is to appeal to the kindness of my readers. So, if there is anyone out there reading this blog that has a daughter selling Girl Scout cookies, please send me an order form. I can make it worth your while.

And I promise not to yell at your kid.

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A Quick Trip to Frisco

My good friend and fellow writer, Wes Blalock, called me up a while ago and asked if I would like to attend the San Fran Golden Gate Writers Event with him and his wife. While the event sounded like it might be a nice outing, I was hesitant about going to San Francisco to attend. Having grown up in Northern California, I am very familiar with Frisco, and I must say that I have no great love for it.

I am also aware that many residents of the city do not like the term “Frisco,” however I have chosen to use the moniker because it is the nicest “F” word I can think of to describe my feelings for that city.

Yet, despite my reservations, I relented and said I would go.

Last weekend, my wife and I met Wes and his wife in San Jose. We all hopped into his car and he drove us into The City. Initially, it went about as I expected. We dropped our wives off in front of the hotel hosting the writers event, then Wes and I circled the neighborhood in the car for about a week and a half looking for a place to park. As my blood pressure began to climb, Wes tried to calm me down by reminding me that San Francisco was not the only city that had traffic and parking problems.

He told me, “Just take a few deep breaths and think about puppies, or something else you would like to kick.”

Eventually we did find a place to park and were able to join our spouses in the hotel. The San Fran Writers Event is an annual gathering of romance writers who sign autographs and promote their newest books. While romance is not a genre I typically read or write, it was still a pleasant gathering and an opportunity to meet and talk with other authors.

I did feel slightly out of place at times, as I was one of only about four men in a room packed with a couple hundred people. But I tried not to feel too self-conscious as I carried around my complimentary, hot-pink, tote bag and dodged between the various posters of half-naked men advertising what books were currently for sale.

On a couple occasions, I had to nudge my wife along as she paused to “browse” the available selections. She told me she was just looking for something to read, but I’m not sure that you actually have to run your hands over a poster to decide if a book is going to be any good. I am not an expert, however, so I could be mistaken.

After a couple hours, we left the hotel and Wes suggested we should have a bite of lunch before we drove back home. I agreed, but only because I had momentarily forgotten we were still in San Francisco, where rents are exorbitant, and the minimum wage is fifteen bucks an hour.

We ended up in a small diner that was just big enough to squeeze in a half dozen tables and a bar. It was early afternoon, a slow part of the day for restaurants, so we easily found an open table and sat down. The four of us ordered burgers and sodas and an appetizer to share. Service was good, and the food was simple, but tasty. It was a nice meal for the most part, but I almost choked on my last couple of fries when the bill hit the table.

$120 for four burgers and drinks.

Again, Wes had to talk me down off of the ceiling and remind me that San Francisco was not the only city with expensive restaurants. “The owner is just trying to stay in business,” he told me. “You’re making too big of a deal over this.”

 I made a few more unpleasant comments about the town as we paid the bill and then walked back to the car.

When we reached our vehicle, Wes walked around to the back of the car to open the trunk and put away his jacket and the swag bags we had collected from the hotel. When he stepped off the curb, he put his right foot down in a large pile of … well, let’s just say a large pile.

Apparently, while we were enjoying our lunch, one of the fine upstanding citizens of San Francisco had squatted down behind Wes’ car, dropped his pants and left us all a present.

As Wes tried to scrape the worst of the human detritus off his shoe, he looked up at me and said:

“Yeah. F*ck this place.”

Before I could say, “I told you so,” my wife decided to add a little insult to injury.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t fall down in it,” she told Wes. “We would have left you on the curb and driven home without you. Don’t worry, though, we would have called you a cab before leaving. We’re not heartless.”

Wes took off his soiled shoe, wrapped it in paper towels and tossed it into a bag before getting in the car and driving us home. When we arrived back at his house, he threw the bag and shoe into the garbage. While I don’t fault him for disposing of the shoes – I would certainly never want to wear them again considering what they had been through – I do wonder why he put them in the car with us for the hour and a half it took to drive home.

It certainly wasn’t for the refreshing smell.

All in all, it was a memorable outing. I managed to have a good time while reminding myself why I will not be returning to San Francisco anytime soon.

I don’t think Wes will be in a hurry to go back, either.

Shoes aren’t cheap these days.

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Valentimes Day

Happy Valentimes Day. The day when we all celebrate the time of the Valen. This is a holiday steeped in history and tradition going all the way back to the Vikings in the eighth century.

The original celebration was a Norse feast known as the “Phalentroen” which later was adapted by the English as Falentine or Valentine. Phalentroen, in ancient Norwegian, is loosely translated to, “day of massive overeating to stave off depression.”

Of course, absolutely none of that is true. I just wrote it to see if anyone would get mad enough to scroll down to the comments section of the blog and tell me how badly I’ve screwed up the history of this hellish little holiday designed to make women feel unloved and men feel inadequate. And, yes, I realize that it is “Valentine’s Day” not Valentimes Day. But, I figure if you’re going to lay down incorrect facts, go big or go home.

The reality of where Valentine’s Day comes from, if anyone is interested (or even if you’re not, here it comes), is that it was based on the story of a Roman priest who was executed in 270 A.D. The priest, Valentine, was attempting to help Christians escape the Roman prisons where they were being beaten and tortured. When his activities were discovered, Valentine himself was imprisoned.

While in prison, Valentine fell in love with a young woman. Some versions of this story believe the woman was the daughter of Valentine’s jailor, but there is no real evidence of that, so believe what you like. Anyway, before Valentine was put to death, he sent the young woman a letter to say goodbye. At the end of the letter, he signed his message, “from your Valentine.”

The whole thing is very touching. It is also very confusing, as I am left wondering how we got from the story of a man dying in a Roman prison to a day where we are expected to hand out cards, candy, flowers, and God knows what else to our spouses or significant others to celebrate our love for each other.

Valentine died alone in a prison. How does that require me to go to a supermarket and purchase a red Mylar balloon in the shape of a heart to commemorate his death?

And it isn’t just people who are married or dating. The day has become so popular that we require elementary school children to celebrate it by handing out cards to all of their classmates. And, I mean all of them. Don’t forget to give a card to that weird kid that sits in the back and eats the erasers off of his pencils, or else you’ll be at the center of a parent/teacher conference discussing your intolerant behavior.

Nobody wants that.

How did this happen?  Why is it a thing? And, how do teachers explain this phenomenon to the kids?  That must be an interesting conversation.

I imagine it probably goes something like this:

Teacher: “Billy, do you remember that old Roman dude that got his head chopped off two-thousand years ago?”

Billy: “No.”

Teacher: “Me, either. But because he’s dead, tomorrow you have to give every one of your classmates a cheap paper card with candy taped to it.”

Billy: “Everyone?  Even the weird kid that eats his pencils?”

Teacher: “Yes, him too. But you can give him the card that got ripped when you opened up the pack.”

(Yeah, I know that seems oddly specific. But I have deep seated issues I’m still working out. Why do you think I write a blog?)

Regardless of where the actual celebration came from, I believe it is time to do away with it. It is an archaic practice that only puts pressure on relationships by artificially mandating bizarre mating behaviors that would not otherwise occur. It can completely destroy new relationships by causing premature proclamations of devotion that aren’t true, or by compelling one party or another to make some sort of “grand gesture” to celebrate the occasion.

What I’m saying is, if you’ve only been dating for six weeks, don’t propose marriage just because the date happens to be February 14 and it feels romantic. That’s a rookie move.

To everyone reading this blog, I suggest a complete boycott of Valentine’s Day. Don’t go out to dinner. Don’t buy a card, candy, flowers, or (God forbid) jewelry. Just treat it like any other day.

Come home from work, put your feet up on the coffee table and watch the news in your underwear. If you’re spouse or partner asks if you have any plans for the night, tell them, “You’re lookin’ at it.”

If they get mad at you, hold your ground. It’s important to squash these foolish Valentine’s expectations completely if we are ever going to make this holiday disappear. You might end up sleeping on the couch for a few nights, but I promise you, the end results will be worth the temporary discomfort.

Stay strong and remember that I am with you one hundred percent in the struggle. If you need me, you can find me at the store.

I’ll be the one buying chocolate and flowers, because I’m not a complete idiot.

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Are you enjoying Deep Dark Thoughts? Then, follow me on Facebook. Just go to my page and click on the “Like” button to receive weekly updates on my blog or other projects.

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