A random look at the life and times of Jim Rising recovering radio addict and newspaper columnist.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A trip to the DMV

It is the great equalizer. Everyone has to submit. Birth, death, taxes and…the visit to the DMV every four years to get your mug shot taken and pasted in a new license. As I sat at the Pa. Department of Motor Vehicles in the Hanover industrial park the other day I wondered a lot of things. First of all I wondered why it was taking so long. I could feel brain cells withering while the minutes passed like molasses on a sub freezing January day. The ticket produced by the grimy machine promised a 17 minute wait. Hemingway, Faulkner and Dickens couldn’t write better fiction. Our elapsed time from doorway to doorway was just under an hour. Oh and about that grimy machine that produces your number in line. It’s the first thing you see as you enter the facility. It has clear instructions. It’s not brain science. And yet as we waited a human gestation period I observed many who followed us just did not quite get how to or what to do. My thought? If you can’t figure that part out then how do you operate a motor vehicle? Of course having also observed the so called driving skills of NEPA my question is answered. Another wondering in my dwindling brain cells was how the hell you could get out of this. I peeked at the statutes and found that indeed you could get a license with no photo if A: you were going to be absent from PA for up to 90 days around your license renewal time (a temporary reprieve to be sure) or B: if your religious beliefs (think Amish or Mennonites) prohibit having your photo taken. It raises the question why would the Amish who drive horse and buggy vehicles would need a license in the first place but that’s another line of inquiry. So basically everyone has to do the long wait at the DMV. Which would explain why the uncomfortable chairs were filled with an assortment of humanity that more resembled the Cantina scene in the “Star Wars” movie. A bald guy sporting a Z.Z. Top style beard. A woman with nearly as much facial hair. A guy with a large gold medallion on a long chain swinging near his belt. A guy wearing a turban. Would they make him take it off? I had plenty of time to observe and think about such things in my wait. I wondered if the governor has to do this. The president? What about movie stars or other famous people? I have trouble picturing Donald Trump or Steve Jobs at the DMV. Of course they probably don’t drive anyway, right? I could be wrong.

Christmas and Diesel Fuel

I now know more about diesel fuel than I want to. This began exactly a week before Christmas Eve. Thursday. With the extreme cold weather here in NEPA I check the trusty heating oil tanks often. This year in spite of the human flesh freezing chill the gauge wasn’t moving. Hurrah! Our conservation efforts and triple layers were working. Until I tapped the gauge and it went from half full to mostly empty in a heartbeat. Uh oh. My friendly neighborhood fuel guys deliver on Thursday so I thought I was in luck. No soap. They would be happy to come…Christmas Eve. “But”, I cleverly protested. “I’m going to run out.”
“No problem” said she. “Just fill it up with diesel fuel.”
“That’ll work?” I said incredulously.
“Would I steer you wrong?”
I should have known better right then. As it turns out she was right. Diesel fuel and heating oil are basically the same. The dye color (red here in the US) indicates the difference and has more do with how it’s taxed then how or what it burns in.
Now here is where the stupidity comes in. I did it. Instead of picking up the phone and calling one of the 40 other fuel guys who no doubt would be only too happy to take my money, I fell for it. Hook line and yellow plastic five gallon container which cost me $9.99. Diesel fuel is more expensive than fuel oil. I did manage to find a gas station that had dyed diesel but it was still pricey.
And it was a pain in the ass. The burner in the basement was thirsty. To the tune of five gallons per day. So every stinking day out of some misguided sense of loyalty to the friendly neighborhood fuel guys I went through the process. And I do mean stinky. Diesel smells. Bad. And the fancy specially marked yellow fuel can? Well let’s just say someone improved the spout technology to the point where I never got more of the smelly stuff in the tank then I got on me or on the ground.
But Christmas Eve was coming. The long suffering wife said “You really think they will come?”
“Of course,” I replied. “They promised.”
Of course you know they didn’t. And so it was that on Christmas Day I was back at the gas station whose clerk knew me on sight. And smell. I noticed a bunch of fuel oil trucks parked near this gas station. A phone call the next day produced a same day delivery. I wish I could say my original friendly neighborhood fuel guys got a cheery message from me. I would be wrong.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cold Enough For You?

Think about the phrase “dead of winter.” There is no phrase like that for summer, fall or spring that I know of. That’s because winter can kill you dead, while those other sissy seasons can’t even maim you. Oh I know what you are probably saying. Heat can kill too, right. Well maybe in some places but not here in NEPA. We get, what, maybe a week of really HOT weather in the summer? A few days of 90 degrees? But here is the difference between hot times in the city in NEPA and cold times. You are trapped outside in the heat. You find shade. You drink a refreshing cold drink. You fan yourself. You live. Trapped outside when it’s below freezing? You die. There you have it. My thoughts stray this way because as I write this the thermometer is displaying “1” degree. 1 is not a number for a temperature. 1 is a number for a combo meal, or, 1 is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. But there it is in all its liquid crystal display glory. 1 single stinking solitary degree. Everything is hard in weather like this, no pun intended. Car doors refuse to open. Once you get them open cars doors refuse to stay shut. Cars refuse to start. Once you get them started and moving they refuse to stop. If they were horses the landscape would be littered with dead ones. Things break in the cold. I have a collection of ice scrapers that have shattered rather than make a windshield see through. Your flesh sticks to anything metal (See: “A Christmas Story”) and anything that hurts in normal temperatures is agony in 1 degree. Scrape your knuckles attaching jumper cables in the summer and it hurts. Same thing in 1 degree and it feels like your knuckles have been dipped in sulfuric acid. And just to make things fun when it’s this cold we also get the thrilling prospect of snow. It’s like a double whammy. It’s so cold that the milk of human kindness freezes solid upon exposure and you have to go out into the world with a snow shovel and work. The other day someone asked me (this was a person whose thermometer has never heard of 1 degree) why we live here. I had no answer. No one ever asks you “Cold enough for you?” on a 1 degree day. And I haven’t even mentioned the wind chill. In summer we have something called the heat index. I see it and think, “yeah it’s hot.” When I see the wind chill temperature I want to move to any place on the equator. I could be wrong.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Let's all go to the movies

I am not pretending to be a film critic although I have seen one or two on TV. I don’t have the background in film to be able to give thumbs up or down but I know what I like.
I saw a film recently that I liked. More on that later. First let me say that I hate going to the theater to see a movie. Almost every thing about the experience grates on my few remaining nerves. Just the fact that I have no control over when it starts and there is no pause button is enough to put me in a bad mood. Ticket prices? A $7.75 EARLY BIRD special? It’s to laugh. Small popcorn and drink $10? Wowser. But the biggest drawback is the other people. Now I know I am sounding like a misanthrope but people in general are a pain in the ass. In a movie theater they are even worse. Coughing, farting blowing their noses and talking talking talking. If I had a rocket launcher. But this week the long suffering wife and I chose the early show and there were, count them, twelve others in the theater. So we settled in and snacked on our solid gold popcorn and drank our more expensive than Dom PĂ©rignon soda and waited out the ads and previews. As you may have guessed the entertainment today was “Avatar” presented in what the newspaper ad called “READ D 3-D” (It’s actually “Real D” but let them go). It was, in word, epic. (WARNING: Semi Spoiler alert. Don’t read on if you haven’t seen it.) Now I can certainly agree with all the bashers of this film about some things. It’s a recycled “Pocahontas.” Yup, sort of. It’s anti-military and pro science. Ok. It’s really just boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. It’s a horse opera with blue skinned creatures with bows and arrows playing the Indians. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t care. I laughed, I cried and when the hero walks I got a lump in my throat the size of Plymouth.
And the REAL D 3-D was nothing short of breathtaking. We also saw the Disney “A Christmas Carol” in 3-D and it too was great. The difference between Disney’s and James Cameron’s use of the technology is this: Disney pokes you in the eye with an icicle. “Avatar” used 3-D to immerse you in the story and then make you feel like you are in the movie. It’s really quite spectacular. The Real D website says: “In the future, 3D will expand to…the home.” Fantastic! No Annoying Humans! Till then I suggest the early show. Oh, and bring lots of money.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Was it my Best Buy? IDK

I betray my advanced years here. When I was first in a position to start buying stereo and video stuff (in other words as soon as I had a paying job) I studied my options carefully and thoroughly educated myself before I dared to step into the “Hi-Fi” shop. A few words about “Hi-Fi” shop. Back in those days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and birds had big leather wings and could carry collies away for dinner there were indeed stand alone stores which specialized in stereo equipment. It seems quaint but it’s true. Loving music and wanting the best I could afford I subscribed to magazines like Stereo Review and High Fidelity so I could make intelligent choices. The salesmen at these “Hi-Fi” shops were scholars of the art. Often wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and smoking pipes they would pontificate at length and really help you make a purchase. Compare and contrast my recent experience at a store which we will call “Next Guy.” First of all a visit to this type of store raises my blood pressure and gives me a headache. It’s loud. And bright. And busy. I was wanting to buy a Blu-Ray DVD player that connects to the Wi-Fi in my house so I could watch on-line movies. I was educated and knew what I wanted. The first person I talked to wearing the store shirt was “from another department” and couldn’t help me. Judging by the fact that he looked like he had been kissing a nail gun with piercings covering most of his epidermis I think he may have been from another dimension. The next two guys gave me a brush off with “IDK” (I don’t know) like I was speaking Martian. The fourth guy wanted to help. I could tell. But when he tried to sell me a $70 dollar accessory which was already included in the unit I was considering I hardly knew what to say. In the middle of this discussion “Next Guy” number five joined us. This guy was sporting a soul patch that dangled several inches below his chin and had been braided with colorful beads. I found it hard to not look at it. But he chased the guy away who was trying to sell me the unnecessary stuff. Then he proceeded to diss every player in the store except the ones that exceeded my budget by several hundred bucks. He lost interest in me as a customer when I told him what I was willing to spend. On my own I found what I wanted and vowed next time to buy on-line. I wonder why retail stores go out of business?