Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Moving, part 2.5

When we last left the 19 Minutes household, it was stranded in Gallup, New Mexico, at a Hampton Inn, one parking lot from a Cracker Barrel, two parking lots from an Applebee's, and four parking lots from the Wal-Mart pharmacy that dispensed our amoxicillin (there was a Home Depot three parking lots away, but as we were stranded en route to buying our house, going to Home Depot seemed to be tempting fate).

Friday, 10:00 pm. We were supposed to hear from the late shift at the VW dealer (really) as to whether our car would be finished by Saturday afternoon. We didn't. Regardless, we decided to make plans to head for Albuquerque on Saturday, under the philosophy that another day in Gallup might get us dangerously close to a level of tedium usually reserved for televised bowling or Ingmar Bergman films.

10:05 pm. The Ingmar Bergman mood is suddenly replaced by a Hallmark Hall-of-Fame moment as a friend from Flagstaff calls and volunteers to rescue us with a drive to Albuquerque in the morning, thus sparing me from the surreal experience of a three-hour Greyhound bus ride with an ear infection, followed by a drive back to Gallup, followed by another drive back to Albuquerque. As though the ear issue wasn't making me dizzy enough.

Saturday, 8:00 am. Becky, our Flagstaff friend, phones from the Arizona-New Mexico line to say she's about 20 minutes away. Some quick math reveals this means she left Flagstaff at approximately 5:15 am. She is quickly elevated to Saint status, at least whatever saint status can be bestowed by a Jewish-Lutheran couple.

9:00 am. We load the stuff into Becky's car - a Subaru Outback, which seems less full with our stuff than our car did. We consider either kidnapping Becky for the remainder of the drive, or just "accidentally" trading cars. Approximately 40 hours after leaving Flagstaff, we finally make it more than 150 miles, pulling into Albuquerque at around 11:30.

11:30 am. We meet Robert, the service guy at the VW dealer. He's not 100% sure why our alternator keeps failing, nor is he 100% sure we'll make it all the way to Wisconsin, but somehow, his self-assured Austin, Texas, drawl leaves us with some semblance of confidence, or at least more than we had in our hotel room in Gallup while we were on the phone with AAA. Robert tells us our car "is just about done."

12:30 pm. The service people pull our car out front and are just about to hand us the keys when the shop foreman takes a quick look under the hood. Halfway through the transaction, Robert says, ominously, "Um, hold on just a minute." Now, there are five mechanics gathered around the open hood of our Jetta Wagon. Robert calls me over, and I utter a quick prayer that no one asks me my opinion on anything more technical than the Olympic hockey tournament.

12:35 pm. No opinions are needed. As it turns out, the problem is a blown fuse on the top of the battery, which has charred to a cinder the wire that leads to the alternator. It's unclear whether we even needed our original alternator replaced three weeks before, and it's unclear whether we need this alternator replaced now. Robert suggests we go out to lunch, since it'll take an hour or so to put in the new fuse and wire.

1:00 pm. Lunch at my favorite restaurant on Planet Earth, The Frontier. The amoxicillin isn't doing wonders for my appetite, so I make sure to eat my sweet roll as quickly as possible, so it doesn't have time to register with my brain.

3:30 pm. Our original alternator and our original battery are returned to their rightful place under the hood of our car. It's more than the "hour or so", but they've kept the waiting area open for us, and they performed the repair under warranty, so we don't complain much. In fact, we enjoy our time in the VW service waiting area enough that we buy souvenirs, namely one VW Nalgene-style bottle, and a keychain.

4:00 pm. Check into Albuquerque Hilton. Wife, daughter and aforementioned saintly friend head off to the pool. I either nap or watch Olympic cross-country skiing - it's hard to say. Ear is still plugged but feels somewhat less like a fireplace poker is jammed into it than the previous day, which is also an improvement.

Sunday, 10:30 am. After breakfast (why not?) at The Frontier, we bid adieu to Becky, secure in the knowledge that there are probably a good five or six VW dealers between Albuquerque and Milwaukee, but also that she's less likely to rescue us if we break down in, say, Amarillo. We head east out of Albuquerque.

11:30 am. We're still in eastern New Mexico.

12:30 pm. Still in eastern New Mexico. Stop in Santa Rosa (scuba capital of New Mexico) to buy a cold beverage. I stay in the car, so we don't have to shut off the engine.

1:00 pm. Wow, eastern New Mexico goes on for a long time. I thought I was glad we were avoiding Nebraska on this drive.

2:15 pm. Cross the Texas border. Realize that Texas is in the Central Time Zone and it's suddenly later than I expected. Also, the drive from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City has suddenly become nine-and-a-half hours, rather than eight-and-a-half. I consider the concept of "time zones" for the next 100 or so miles.

Will 20-month old Sylvi stay awake long enough to eat lunch in Amarillo? And if so, will the 19 Minutes household eat at the restaurant that serves 72-ounce steaks that you get for free if you can finish it in an hour? How do Oklahoma drivers handle a half-inch of snow? And where is there to eat in northwest Oklahoma City after 9:00 pm? These, and many other remotely interesting questions will figure prominently in the third installment of the Tosa Move. Don't touch that dial.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Moving, part two

This episiode of "Moving, the made-for-TV movie" is being delayed by a rebroadcast of the US- versus-Norway Olympic women's curling match.

Actually, it's being delayed by the need to use the computer to find a primary care physician whose name isn't immediately followed by the italicized messages, "Not accepting new patients" and, if that weren't clear enough, "Established patients only", as though established patients would need to consult the physician provider directory to begin with.

Anyway, we'll pick up our story with a trip to University Motors VW in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we'll explore the concept that auto repair representatives are more believable when they speak with an Austin, Texas drawl. That's when we rejoin "Moving, the made-for-TV movie" in the morning.

And later, stay tuned for more news about ear wax (established patients only).

Moving: The made-for-TV movie

Thursday, February 16th. 3:30 pm. Our story opens with the 19 Minutes staff pulling out of a coffee shop on the east side of Flagstaff and heading down Interstate 40, the sun glinting off the San Francisco Peaks in our rear-view mirror. It's a feeling of melancholy that accompanies us as we think about all the good friends we're leaving behind, the well-wishes from co-workers and Public Radioland listeners still fresh in our minds.

But we're excited about the trip ahead - good weather awaits, along with a wedding in Colorado and a new house in Wisconsin at the end of the drive.

The ponderosa pines slip away as we descend from 7,000 feet into the somewhat lower elevations of eastern Arizona. My ears plug up from the change in elevation, and the road noise diminishes.

6:15 pm. My ears have cleared, and we stop for gas in Gallup, New Mexico. We're just two hours from Albuquerque, where we have a room reserved and plans to dine at The Frontier, a restaurant directly across the street from the University of New Mexico. The green chile stew and the sweet rolls are unbelievable, and it's my favorite restaurant in the country at this point in time.

6:25 pm. The battery light has come on in our '03 Jetta wagon. This of some concern, because our battery light illuminated three weeks before, and was followed shortly thereafter by dimming dashboard lights, and then an abrupt shutdown of all the electrical accessories in the car, and followed several hours later by the writing of a check for $750 for a new alternator and a new battery.

6:28 pm. The dashboard lights dim. Fortunately, Gallup is just large enough so that we hadn't actually gotten out of town yet, and so we quickly get off the interstate and limp into the parking lot of an auto parts place. We quickly whip out the warranty the Napa Auto Care people have thoughtfully provided and find out that yes, the parts and labor are covered under the warranty, and yes, the warranty service center closes at 6:00 Eastern Standard Time. And a call to AAA reveals there aren't any Napa Auto Care centers in Gallup, anyway.

6:50 pm. The car, somewhat miraculously, starts again, and we're able to limp over to a Hampton Inn a half-mile away where, posing as the Joad family (hey, were even on Route 66), we pitiful our way into getting the government rate on a room, thanks to - it should be said - a tremendously helpful and sympathetic front desk staff. The car will go no further than the fire lane in front of the hotel - which is okay with us, since the worst that could happen is that someone tows the car, which is what we need to happen in the first place.

Friday, February 17th. 5:00 am. I wake up. My right ear has replugged itself. And now it hurts. A lot. Two Tylenol later, I'm back asleep.

8:00 am. At least there's cell service in Gallup, and we spend the next hour-and-a-half on the phone - with Napa, confirming they'll pay to fix the faulty alternator, though it took a while to convince them that the one local Napa Autocare place that showed up in their database was actually 75 miles away; with a local repair shop, which claims it can fix the car, despite Gallup's notoriety for not having a lot of Volkwagen mechanics; and with AAA, which had to tow the thing to whichever repair place I found. As it turned out, when the tow truck guy showed up, he claimed that the repair place I had found was notorious for not actually fixing cars very well, so he towed me to yet another repair shop nearby, at which point my wife reached me on the cell phone to say that Volkswagen of America thought a VW place should have a crack at fixing the car, so they were going to tow it to Albuquerque. It didn't really matter to me whether VW towed it from the repair shop or our hotel, so I had the current tow truck driver leave the car where it was and drive me back to the hotel.

9:30 am. Ear still smarting. I walk the half-mile back to where we left the car so I can meet the next tow truck driver and retrieve the child safety seat from the back seat. It's about 20 degrees, and my ear hurts plenty more by the time I get to the car.

10:30 am. Back at the Western White House, a.k.a. the Temporary 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, a.k.a. the Gallup Hampton Inn. Back on the phones, trying to figure out how we're going to get to Albuquerque, lest our car dine at The Frontier without us. Amtrak runs from Gallup to Albuquerque. It arrives there at 12:15 pm on Saturday, or 15 minutes after the repair shop closes. Budget rents cars in Gallup. They charge a mere $120 for the one car they have available - a Ford F150 pick-up, plus a modest $129 fee for the one-way rental. Plus tax. We decide this option is only slightly more appealing than hitchhiking a ride with a meth addict driving a rusted out Triumph TR6. We decide I'll take the (really) Greyhound bus, which leaves at 7:00 am and gets in at 10:15, then I'll take a cab to the VW place and pick up the car, then I'll drive back to Gallup to pick up the rest of the 19 Minutes entourage.

5:30 pm. We're at the Applebee's in Gallup, conveniently located two parking lots away from the Western White House a.k.a. (etc., etc.), and my ear is still hurting, but I'm noticing it less, since now the rest of my body is also hurting, and I'm feeling feverish. And dammit, that makes it really hard to enjoy my oriental chicken wrap. Also, I feel like curling up and moaning, which would have been difficult in a packed Applebee's in Gallup, New Mexico. So we track down the only medical professional we can find on the phone - our daughter's pediatrician, who agrees that Sylvi was probably the more likely one to have come down with an ear infection, but also confirms that's what I have. Moreover, she - bless her heart - interviews me over the phone, and calls in a prescription to the local Wal-Mart pharmacy, which is located just one more parking lot away. The rest of the move will take place under the influence of Amoxicillin.

Will the 19 Minutes staff ever get out of the Gallup Hampton Inn? Will Mitch's ear unplug enough that he can listen to all seven hours of David Sedaris's "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" on CD? Can Volkswagen manufactur a car that'll make it across a state line - any state line - without a major electrical system malfunction? Tune in tomorrow evening for Part 2 of the 'Tosa Move. Or Tivo it, and enjoy it whenever the heck you want.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Beer, brats, and 19 Minutes

The move from hell is complete and the 19 Minutes staff has relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Full details to follow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Moving. Moving moving moving.

As you may have guessed from the previous posts (and the lack of subsequent posts) to this feature, the 19 Minutes staff is hip deep in the enjoyment of moving. I believe the most recent entry on the Moving Spreadsheet reads "Box #186 - Coat Closet/Foyer (+ breast pump)". We've gone through roughly eleven rolls of packing tape, 15 file boxes, 30 small and medium-sized new boxes, and 47,000 boxes that used to hold Fruity Pebbles or Mr. Coffee machines and which were gleaned from the discard pile at a local retailer. Watched a lot of women's Olympic curling while packing boxes at 3:15 am.

My hands are torn to the point that blogging any longer tonight would be pointless, unless you'd like to read about hkdwjh viwuyr2875v2p9 hnldshgfkajhgkkvn.

The movers are scheduled to arrive at 9 am. We hit the road Thursday morning. But there's a two-day layover in Boulder, Colorado on the schedule, from which the next dispatch should follow - probably Friday night or Saturday morning.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Looking for a really super market

When you're getting ready to move to a new community, there are a lot of things you need to get ironed out - what companies provide utilities, who your child's pediatrician will be, where the hell you packed the bath towels - but one that's often overlooked is: Where will you do your grocery shopping?

We're getting ready for the big move to the Milwaukee area next week and considering the grocery possibilities. Flagstaff is an easy grocery shopping town - you can get from one side of the city to the other in, at most, 15 minutes, so if one supermarket is out of Mini Oreos, you can always drive a few short minutes to another supermarket, provided you don't stop to think about whether Mini Oreos are actually a well-conceived product.

From what my wife and I discovered on our house-buying trip a couple weeks ago, there are a number of options in southeastern Wisconsin, one of which is "Piggly Wiggly". I'm not sure I can handle shopping at "Piggly Wiggly". I'm sure their merchandise is swell, with a full complement of produce, cheeses, Mini Oreo products, etc. But I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why an entrepreneur, with a dream of starting a supermarket, would name a grocery store "Piggly Wiggly". Maybe you could make a case if you were starting a supermarket that specializes in pork products. Or worms.
(The Piggly Wiggly people, for their part have this to say about their company's name: "[Clarence] Saunders' reason for choosing the intriguing name Piggly Wiggly® remains a mystery; he was curiously reluctant to explain its origin. One story is that he saw from a train window several little pigs struggling to get under a fence, and the rhyming name occurred to him then. {Mitch's note: Yeah, right.} Someone once asked him why he had chosen such an unusual name for his organization, and Saunders' reply was, "So people will ask that very question." He wanted and found a name that would be talked about and remembered.")

Of course, considering the names of supermarkets opens up its own wiggly can of worms. You have your stores named after the founder (in Flagstaff alone, we have Basha's, Albertson's, and Fry's, which is itself a subsidiary of Kroger). There are stores that imply massive selection (the D.C. area's Giant Food and Denver's teeth-gnashing "King Soopers"), and those that imply bargains (Supervalu, for instance, which is apparently such a bargain because it saved money by only buying one letter E for its name). And then there are the names that may imply something, but I'm not sure what (Safeway - clean produce?, Sentry - guards at the doors?, Cub Foods - bear meat?).

We've generally shopped at Safeway here in Flagstaff, mainly because we generally shopped there in Washington, DC, before we moved here. And we generally shopped there in DC because we enjoyed giving the various Safeway stores their own nicknames. We typically shopped at the "Secret Safeway", a store whose back faced busy Wisconsin Avenue in the Tenleytown neighborhood and whose entrance was basically hidden from view. But occasionally, we stopped by the Singles Safeway, so named for its plethora of people trolling for dates (yes, a literal meat market). There was also the Soviet Safeway, which was always out of everything, and the Suburban Safeway, which was any Safeway across the Maryland or Virginia line. In Flagstaff, then, we've usually patronized the Student Safeway, which is the one closest to Northern Arizona University, and is filled with college students wearing flip-flops and shorts on 17 degree evenings. But sometimes we make it to the Cedar Safeway, which is located among pine trees on Cedar Avenue. Only rarely do we shop at the Safeway out by the Flagstaff Mall. I'd like to say that's because we've never come up with an alliterative nickname, but it's really because it's 6 miles from our house.

The two Basha's stores in Flagstaff also have nicknames - there's the "Big Basha's", so named because it's, um, big; and the "Hippie Basha's", so named because it takes 20 minutes to buy at gallon of milk, because at all hours, you're guaranteed to have to wait in line behind a half-dozen white guys with dreadlocks who are buying Fat Tire beer and American Spirit cigarettes and paying with a combination of pocket change, dollar bills, and credit cards.

But there are no Safeways (or Basha's stores) in the Milwaukee area. So we have yet to determine where we'll do our shopping. Auditions start in a few weeks. We do have a couple of alliterative options in Sentry and Sendik's. But maybe it'd be more fun to come up with nicknames for the area Piggly Wigglys.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Housing a dormant decorating gene

I'm not sure, but I think this home-buying thing has activated a long-dormant gene. (As opposed to 'Long-Dormant Gene', who had a hit in the '70s with "Double Helix Disco".)

My idea of interior design has always been pretty understated. The one concession I made to adulthood and/or style in the last 15 years has been to insist that the various prints on the wall are framed. Because nothing says "style" like a framed James Bond poster (Sean Connery in "You Only Live Twice") hanging in the nursery.

In all fairness, the rental apartments in which I've resided for the past 15 years haven't really given me a lot of free reign to practice interior decorating, unless you count using toothpaste to fill in nail holes in the wall. I've tried to hang things in appropriate places - the artsy prints in the living room, James Bond in the nursery, the "on-air" light over the bathroom door - and my wife and I have systematically started retiring the cheaper pieces of furniture in favor of the ones that at least vaguely resemble substances like wood.

But in reality, our current apartment is still decorated in the style known to architects as the "Starving Recent Graduate Student and Public Radio Employee" school of design.

Enter the new house. The old house, really.

As you faithful readers know, our new abode is a 1920s-era bungalow. And it'll be ours, which adds some pressure in the form of choosing paint colors. Given my track record, you'd expect Variations on a Theme of White Paint to be in the future for the 19 Minutes household.

But from somewhere in the deep recesses of my subconscious, strange thoughts are surfacing. Thoughts like "design elements". And "focal points". And "Wouldn't it be nice if our furniture actually reflects the style of the house?" That's how we came to buy an art deco-style lamp at Target last night, rather than the same pillar-shaped halogen lamp that has represented the last 17 light fixtures we've purchased.

And that's why we're letting our current couch go for $25 (well, that, plus the fact that we're getting $25 more than we paid for it), lest it take up residence in our new living room and never leave. Same for my nightstand and the early 70s table lamp that's on it, and for the computer desk we bought for $10 at someone else's moving sale 10 years ago. And the Bond poster will disappear from the nursery, at least until we have a child named "Blofeld".

The downside to this pickiness is that our couch may, for the short run, be what most people refer to as "hardwood floors". And my side of the bed may be lit by what interior designers generally term "the sun". But -- unlike our current couch, nightstand, or lamps -- the floor and the sun haven't yet gone out of style.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

An update from the world of update journalism

Updating you on some stories we're following here in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters...

You'll recall my column in Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine, one of the best free magazines you can pick up in the foyer of health clubs in the greater Flagstaff area, was cancelled in order to - in the words of my editor - "include a greater diversity of voices in the publication." Well, you'll be excited to learn that - in the two months since my column disappeared from the back page, NAMLM has run columns by... the former editor and the current editor of the magazine. A stunning blow for diversity.

Some time ago, I was one of the first to note the details of a South Korean study linking kimchi and/or sauerkraut consumption to a reduced risk of contracting avian flu. Four months and thousands of ill-directed Google hits later, there's still no definitive proof of shredded cabbage's medicinal properties (nor, might I add, any word as to why scientists first decided to feed kimchi to the chickens in the study in the first place). On the other hand, the South Korean scientists who conducted the study haven't been accused of fabricating their data, so perhaps we can't write it off, yet.

Speaking of thousands of ill-directed Google hits, Canadians by the blog-load continue to wind up on this website in search of nude curling pictures, of which there are none. The Winter Olympics are a few short days away, and with around a dozen hours of curling coverage planned in this country, plus a telegenic US Women's Curling Team, the 19 Minutes staff is hard at work, planning how we might respond to the additional influx of novice curling fans. So we're pleased to provide this link to yet another picture of curlers.

Finally, we provided our own, realistic, update to the "What to Expect" series of child-rearing books a few months ago, including suggestions for how to deal with situations such as a toddler that insists on wandering into Victoria's Secret at the local mall and rummaging through drawers full of bras and panties. As you might expect, several more situations have presented themselves in the intervening months, so here are a few more parenting tips:

Problem: You're walking by the food court at the aforementioned mall. 19-month old daughter insists on waving at probable gang members dining at a nearby table. She won't continue walking until at least one of them waves back.

You'll probably: Attempt to drag her towards the store you were going to, causing her to start to protest loudly, drawing the attention of the probable gang members, who are now unlikely to wave at your daughter - plus they look at you like you're the worst parent who ever lived, an opinion based on their experiences of each fathering six kids before they were 18.

Real solution: Let her wave, and be glad she's 19 months, not 19 years.


You're house-hunting. You have 23 houses to look at in 2 days' time, and you have no babysitter to fall back on, so your 19-month old is coming along.

You'll probably: Keep an artificially close eye on your daughter, so that she doesn't destroy anything in the occupied homes, and doesn't fall down the stairs in vacant homes.

Real solution: Let her loose. As a bona fide 19-month old, she'll find potential hazards way faster than any building inspector. [Editor's note: Our particular 19-month old was amazingly well-behaved in all the houses we checked out, save for the one with the daycare in progress. And the woman who owned that house deserved all of Sylvi's whining.]

And finally, we bring you an update on the situation surrounding Mark Felt, the man identified last year as "Deep Throat" in the Washington Post's Watergate reportage:

Mark Felt is still alive. As far as we know.