Self-doubt, worry and emissions testing

stressing out at the emissions test

For the first time ever, I had my emissions tested well ahead of the deadline. So worried that I would not pass due to car problems I’ve had recently, I wanted to get it over with and find out what problems needed to be fixed.

Figuring that the week between Christmas and New Year’s would be a less busy time to take care of the emissions testing, I went yesterday. Wrong, it was just as busy as ever.

It seems that every time the car idles for a long time, the Check Engine light comes on and it costs a lot of money to fix it.

Nail chewing time

I pulled into the emissions center in total freak-out mode and waited in line with my car idling for over a half hour. They now have a self-testing area. After briefly considering that, I decided out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it and would end up in the line anyway. Probably should have tried it.

Traffic jams always make me feel claustrophobic and sitting in this waiting area with many lanes of traffic completely stopped did not help my anxiety in the least. I picked the first aisle because I would only be trapped on one side and that was a little better.

There was a guy in a car in the lane to the right of me that was turning his car off and then back on when it was time to move up one car length. I considered doing this, but didn’t. When he moved his car forward it was making a terrible noise. I figured I would be seeing this guy later in the “you didn’t pass” customer service area.

There were 5-6 cars ahead of me when I got in line. With each car length forward my stomach churned and sweat appeared on my forehead. I thought to myself that maybe I could turn on the heat full blast and it would keep my engine cooler. Not sure if that makes any sense, but the hot flashes took over and I couldn’t deal with the blasting heat even with the windows down.

Another car length forward and my palms were sweating. I couldn’t sit still. To my left I could see people parking and taking their paperwork inside where you have to go once you fail the test. I knew I would be parking there soon and wondered how long I would be in line inside.

A passenger in the car ahead of me got out and took a little walk. I wondered what she was up to or if she just needed the bathroom. She came back a few minutes later. And we moved up another car length.

At this point I was in a full out panic attack. Why? I would just get a paper that said what I need to get fixed. I was sure it would be pricey, then I would have to come back and go through this horror again.

Oh boy, the car ahead of me entered the testing area. My pulse rate was high, full sweatiness and I think my eyes were crazy.

My head was throbbing now. The person in front of me got her paper and the attendant waved me into the testing area.

I could barely speak. I handed the guy my paper and money. He was telling me to turn off the car and step out while he performed the test. I felt faint. Maybe I’d vomit. I knew I looked on edge, but I couldn’t calm down.

The attendant handed me back the paper and I knew what he would say.

“You passed.” He said with the causal air of someone who says that all day long. I thought I misunderstood him.

“Thank you…” I croaked.

“You’re good for two years.” The attendant said. I’m not a hugger, but I nearly leapt from my car and embraced that guy in a full bear hug.

Disbelief

Out of the emissions testing center, I pulled out in total disbelief. I slowly drove down the road thinking that I will wake up at any minute and realize that I haven’t had the test yet. I got to the traffic light, thrust my fist upward and yelled, “YES!”

Here’s hoping 2017 will be filled with moments that end with a fist pump and a “Yes!”

Comcast: A lesson in customer service

customer service by comcastI will start by saying, this is not the type of customer service we offer Social Squids. If we did, we would have no clients. This is more of a cautionary tale.

I’ve been a Comcast/Xfinity customer for about 30 years now. Not sure why. Many problems over the years, including the fact that none of my phone jacks work any more and all of the phone wires are a mess, have been a thorn in my side. Several lines were mixed up by a Comcast technician a few years ago and no one there seems to care. The only way I can use a landline telephone is to connect it to the back of the router. Most of the outlets have bare wires showing. They never even put the covers back on them.

However, this is another story…

A couple months ago I switched from an old tv to a new, high def tv in my bedroom. I didn’t think it would cost me HOURS of phone calls to Comcast to get an upgraded cable box.

I was watching my tv with the old cable box and it was not good. I knew I needed to call, but it was not a high priority.

Three weeks ago

It all started when Comcast called me. They said there was trouble in the area and my service was probably not working. I said phone, cable and internet were all working fine. The guy (heavy accent, not in the US) asked me to see if all of the connections were tight. I checked, although did not want to crawl under a table on the floor to check where the cable comes into the house. After putting me on hold the guy came back and said I fixed it. Wow. I didn’t do anything. Nothing was loose. In fact, he asked me to tighten the cable in the back of the modem/router, but it was so tight I couldn’t make it budge. So, yea! I fixed something that wasn’t broken.

While I had them on the line, I asked if I could talk to someone about getting a new cable box. I said I didn’t want to drive all the way across town to stand in line for an hour at the Comcast store to get a new box. They could send me a cable box and I could send back the old one. Sounds great.

I had a terrible time hearing the person. It was not a problem understanding him. It sounded like he was not speaking into the phone. I kept asking him to repeat everything because I couldn’t hear him. I should have hung up at that point. My bad!

Two weeks ago

I was walking my dog, George Karl and saw a neighbor. She said she received a package from UPS with my name and address, but it was delivered to her. I thought it felt too light and small to be a cable box. I had to carry it the whole way on our walk. It was a remote. Stupidly, I thought maybe there would be a separate package with the cable box. There was printing that said “1 of 1” on the envelope. So no other package was coming.

I called Comcast and spoke to a woman who told me that anytime I call and get someone with an accent, I should hang up and call back. She felt terrible about my problem – they are always sorry. She also said would overnight me a new box that day and I would receive it on Monday. I didn’t ask for her to send it overnight, she offered that.

Last week

Walking with my dog, the same neighbor said she received another package from UPS with my name and address, but delivered to her house.

Yep, it was another remote. This time it was a voice remote, marked package 1 of 1, so nothing else was on its way.

I called Comcast, out of breath from the walk and really angry, and asked the woman if she knew what the definition of insanity was. She said, “Yes, ma’am!” The definition of insanity I was going for is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

I told my story again and the woman said she would send a new box. She also told me that Comcast never sends anything overnight. The woman lied to me last week for no reason.

I said I would like to talk to someone else about my bill and why it’s so high.

After being on hold for several minutes, I spoke to Comcast person #2 for the day. She told me she could only upgrade my services and could not lower my bill in any way. She offered me a deal where it would be $2 a month less and I would increase my internet speed and get three movie channels. But – I would have to have a contract for two years. I said I wasn’t sure if I would still have Comcast in a month, I’m not signing a two year contract and if I get another remote in the mail, I’m canceling everything. She said maybe I should speak to another department where they could lower my bill.

Back on hold… and on to Comcast person #3. She was very nice. She found a newer plan, not a contract, my bill will be lowered by maybe $30-40/month. It was the exact same deal the other woman offered me for $2 less. I agreed to the deal. While on the line, she said she would check to make sure I would not get another remote in the mail.

I would like to add that I was told I’m getting some money back every time I talked to someone. But I think I’ve also been charged a delivery fee a bunch of times. I’m sure my bill will be messed up for at least another month.

I never heard from UPS when I got the other two remotes, but I received an email this time from UPS saying that an 8 lb. package was being delivered from Cox Cable. That sounded bigger than a remote and I was guessing it was the cable box.

Great, right? I looked at where they were sending this box. NOT MY ADDRESS. My name, my city, my state, my zip code, but not my street address.

Furious now, I called Comcast back. I spoke to Comcast person #4 for the day. He was great! He said, “How about we just send a technician to your house to bring the box?” I told him he was the smartest person at Comcast. (Spoiler alert) Maybe not…

The next day a Comcast technician came over. While standing on the sidewalk outside my house, he asked if I have a dog. I said I do. He absolutely refused to come into my house unless I sequestered my dog. Absurd! He was upstairs sleeping and totally ignores people.

When the guy finally came inside, he giggled like a school girl when I told him my story. He connected the new box in about 10 minutes, activated it and was leaving. I told him to take the two remotes. He told me I should keep them. I said, “You told me neither works with the cable box you gave me. Why would I want them?”

He insisted that I at least keep the batteries. I wasn’t interested in the batteries and gave him both remotes and batteries in the envelopes that came with them.

Happy, I enjoyed watching my new cable box that evening.

Yesterday, I received two emails, each saying that I have a UPS delivery headed my way from Comcast. Wait, what????

Today

I received two large boxes with Xfinity marked on them (see photo). They are both cable boxes with DVRs (didn’t order DVRs ever). I’m so angry and I’m afraid to call them for fear of what will happen next.

Post Script

In retrospect, I feel that the UPS email was a coincidence and probably spam.

A word for the ladies…

sexual harassment in the workplaceWith all of the talk about sexual harassment and abuse in the news today, I feel like I need to go off topic and address this issue myself. I was a victim more than once of this type of abuse when I was young. The men were not billionaires or famous, just predators who thought they could do anything and get away with it at work. And they actually did.

The first situation was my boss. He constantly groped, grabbed and pinched me every single day I worked, even when his wife was there. I was happy when she worked because I knew there would be a lot less groping on those days, but it still happened.

I thought no one would have believed me if I said anything. I put up with it because I needed the job. Unfortunately, I stayed in that job over a year until I found something else.

I was in college at the time and didn’t know what to do or who to tell. I felt like it was somehow my fault, like I somehow invited his abuse. I know better now.

My fears extended to going to the bathroom because I knew he would be standing outside of the door when I came out. I would have to try and dodge him every time. I rarely succeeded in escaping. Some days I worked 8-10 hours so it was impossible to avoid the bathroom. This person terrified me. He had to know I hated it and was afraid. Perhaps that made me more of a target.

My nightmares were of him groping me. I couldn’t escape him when I was asleep. Even now, I get goosebumps thinking about that situation and how horrible it was. How did I endure this?

I wonder how many other young women put up with similar predators over the years. I never told anyone at work about this because he was the boss. Who could I tell? Telling his wife was an idea, although I probably would have been fired and branded a liar. I wouldn’t be getting any job reference from them if I suggested the boss was a molester.

The second situation was while I was a student intern at a local tv station. I worked in the newsroom and loved every minute of that job. Writing news was a dream come true. That was, until my boss asked me to go get him coffee.

He rarely asked me for such a menial task and we didn’t have a coffee maker in the newsroom even though people guzzled it constantly. I had to go up to the vending machine, where the coffee was truly awful. Why anyone wanted it was beyond me.

As I went up the stairway, I was approached by a guy at least twice my age who worked in another department. He cornered me in the otherwise empty stairwell, pushed me into a corner, grabbed my wrists and asked me how I liked being helpless. I think he was about to kiss me when someone entered the stairwell.

I shoved him as hard as I could, heart pounding like a frightened rabbit and ran upstairs to the vending lounge. I was terrified to come back down with the coffee, but I did. I figured I would just throw it on him if he came at me again. That man assaulted me twice in the same stairwell during the two semesters I spent at that job.

I was so afraid of going up those stairs. The second time he cornered me, I said I was going to scream and he told me to go right ahead. Again someone unknowingly rescued me by entering the stairwell and I took off running.

I told someone at the station after the first time and they told me that guy was “harmless.” When I said it didn’t feel harmless they told me to stop being dramatic – and this was another woman. She basically told me to grow up and stop acting like a kid. I was about 21 at the time.

I’m much older and wiser now. No way would I take that these days. At the time, I didn’t know how to get out of the situation.

If you are reading this and you are a female, please tell someone if this happens to you. If they don’t listen, tell another person or human resources. Don’t just take it like I did. Times are, hopefully, different these days. Although I wonder if they are with the conversations happening this week.

And if you are a man, I hope you never take advantage of a young girl the way these guys did to me. Who knows what kind of scars something like this leaves behind?

What would you do?

just sitting at starbucksLast week I found myself in an awkward situation. Maybe you have been there a time or two yourself. Here is my story…

This morning I am sitting in Starbucks for the second time waiting for someone who has not shown up. It is my second attempt on an appointment with this person and getting together was his idea. He seemed rather embarrassed when I talked to him after he missed the first appointment and here I am again. I really thought he would show up this time.

How many appointments do you make with someone and how long do you wait before you bail? This is someone I’ve known for over a year, but we will not be working together at this point. And, I feel like I can’t refer people to someone who doesn’t feel I am important enough to keep an appointment.

To make matters worse, one guy is talking loudly on his cell phone and a couple is having a conversation with someone on speaker phone. The loud guy is  talking to his appointment who did not show up either. I clearly heard him say, “That’s okay. Whenever you can get here is fine.”

I have resorted to my headphones, which I don’t like to do because I’m liable to start singing without realizing it. That will not be good in any way.

What is the protocol for being on time? 

In my opinion, you should always be 5-10 minutes early. That way you are never late. I get into panic attacks if I am stuck in traffic and I think I’m going to be late for anything, even if it’s just dinner with good friends and there is no time constraint. Maybe that’s just me.

In the age of cell phones that have alerts to let you know an appointment is coming up or reminders that can let you know you need to do something, there is really no excuse.

When I first contacted the guy after missing the first appointment, he doubted me, checked his phone’s calendar and admitted I was right. Ouch. Doubting me? That hurt right off the bat. I should have just said forget it, but I was hoping that we could at least share referrals.

If I’m going to be late, I text or call the person to let them know. I had an appointment last week and the guy was 30 minutes late. He messaged me three times letting me know there was an accident on the beltway and that he was trying to get to the appointment. However, this time I have been disrespected – and for the second time.

Last night I considered sending a reminder email, especially because he missed the first appointment, but I figured we’re all adults here and should be able to keep an appointment. Seems like I got that wrong.

I will admit, I missed a doctor’s appointment once. I spent the day with that nagging feeling that I was forgetting something, but couldn’t remember what it was. Two hours after the appointment, it hit me. I was embarrassed and felt terrible especially since I would probably be charged for it. Granted, that was years before Siri was around to remind me. I made absolutely sure I did not miss the second appointment!

Should I be insulted? I am. Should my feelings be hurt? They are. Should I just chalk it up to experience and enjoy my Starbucks latte? I should, but I can’t.

OMG. The guy I’m supposed to be meeting just walked in the door and sat down with someone else six feet away from me. Now I’m really mad and in a completely awkward situation. I have no idea what to do. I feel like a complete idiot. I am embarrassed, although I should not be. This is crazy. I should not have started writing this and instead left when I had a chance for a clean break.

Life sure does throw me curve balls. Did he see me sitting here with my headphones and typing away at my keyboard or was he focused on his OTHER appointment with the loud guy I heard talking on the phone earlier. Apparently, he forgot that appointment too. I am seething…

This has become too angry to be a blog. It has become a rant.

The guy didn’t even go up and get coffee, offering me an escape route. I am trapped like a wounded animal. Being generally non-confrontational, I am at a loss. I just want to escape with what little dignity I have. At least his back is to me as I contemplate my predicament.

What would you do if you found yourself in this situation?

Freedom of speech

Charlie hebdo gives us pauseIn the wake of the events of the past few weeks, many people throughout the world are realizing just how precious the right to freedom of speech is. As Americans, we sometimes take this right for granted. Between the terror events in France and the Sony movie The Interview, we are now seeing how some other people view our freedom.

In my business, I have the opportunity to write about a wide range of topics. The most controversial I have gotten in my work has been organizing your clothes closet or picking a team that might win tomorrow’s game. But I know I have the right to write about whatever topic I chose. This is not true for some people.

As a college intern, I worked at a Baltimore television station during the American hostage crisis in 1979 that took place in Iran. It was an exciting yet scary time to be in the news business. The Associated Press and United Press International alarms were ringing in what we called “the wire room” all evening, every evening with news updates and bulletins. Every time the alarm went off, my heart jumped.

Back then, we didn’t have a 24-hour news cycle, social media or cell phones. Okay, maybe there were cell phones, but they were about the size of a shoe box and few people owned them. At the TV station where I worked, they didn’t even have computers. We typed on typewriters with large keys so the stories could be put directly into the teleprompter for the anchorman.

As a young adult, it was the first time I was exposed to terrorism. I also learned a lot about patriotism and freedom during my internship. It has been a long road from that job to creating Social Squids, but freedom of speech has been there all along.

With the technology of today, people use freedom of speech and social media to instantly send images and words to the world. With this freedom people have gotten themselves into all kinds of trouble from “sexting” to sending out things by accident. Of course, many also use it for sending funny, informational, inspirational or newsworthy messages.

As citizens of the world and especially as writers, we should remember how precious this freedom is. Some people have paid the ultimate price. We should take advantage of our freedom of speech and use it wisely.

Je suis Charlie.

Dealing with the computer illiterate

computer literacyYesterday I had a meeting with a prospective client about setting up a website. He is a very nice man, but really had no idea what a website does or why he should have one. He never thought about it before because he doesn’t really use a computer.

I see less and less of this type of person. Most people, even many of my relatives over the age of 80, at least use email and Facebook. Not this guy.

It was difficult explaining things to this man because I had to define the terms I was using as I went along. That often got me sidetracked. The man wants to sell something on his website that he makes by hand. He said he’d rather be working with his hands than using a computer. Obviously.

My explanations included how a search engine works and what it does, what Etsy.com is, Facebook, web hosting, domain name, etc. The poor man’s eyes glazed over when I talked about setting up a PayPal account so he can sell his products online. Of course, I had to explain what PayPal is and how it works. “How would I get the money?” he asked after a 10 minute explanation. I had to start from the beginning again.

Luckily, I am very patient. Years ago, I taught word processing in adult education. It was the same situation. The idea of switching from typing on paper to on the computer screen is confusing at first. I explained everything to this man as thoroughly as I could. I’m sure everything I said to him was a confused jumble in his mind when he left.

As a result of the conversation with this man, I have decided to write out some definitions/explanations to hand to people when I get together with them. It is my responsibility to explain what I do and all of the terms involved to a prospective client. I can either email (if they have email) or hand a prospective client the paper so when they go home and discuss it with people, they will have a better idea of what I do.

Perspectives

cool statue in downtown baltimoreThis is off topic, but I want to share…

Today I visited a Baltimore City civil trial involving someone suing a bar after a family member was beaten to death back in 2010. I have nothing to do with the case except knowing an attorney who is involved, but since I love reading crime novels and watching cop shows I thought it might be interesting.

The man responsible for the beating death is already in prison, but shuffled into the courtroom donning a Department of Corrections jumpsuit, leg irons and elaborate handcuffs. It was quite a show taking all of the shackles off the prisoner during his courtroom appearance.

I avoided eye contact. However, considering there were only a handful of people in the gallery and I was only one of two people who were not witnesses, it was difficult not to lock eyes with him every now and then. Thankfully, he was not facing me during the session.

He had an opportunity, representing himself, to ask questions of any of the witnesses because he is also a part of the lawsuit. He only asked a question of one witness, the bartender, but I’ll get to her in a minute.

The testimony was so dry at times that all six jurors and two alternates were having trouble keeping their eyes open. One alternate was obviously nodding off through most of the testimony. I hope they don’t end up needing him. One juror seemed very interested in every word, but even he was having trouble staying awake.

It was not until the bartender, who didn’t call 911 when the fight broke out, gave her rather bland answers that people started to perk up. It was her outfit rather than her testimony that woke up the group. She appeared in court dressed more for clubbing than testifying. Her skin tight leggings left little to the imagination. Her constant hair flipping and fidgeting were also a distraction from her words.

Is there really a price for your pain and suffering? The family of the victim was offered a pretty large amount of cash, but turned it down hoping for a bigger payday by going to court. It seems to me that the lawyers make out better than the victims in lawsuits.

As we left the building when court was adjourned for the day, we were stopped in the hallway for our own safety as prisoners were being loaded into or out of a couple vans. Once again I avoided eye contact. I have no idea why. They were shackled and there appeared to be at least one guard per prisoner. But it was still a creepy experience.

There were two times in my life I came close to testifying in animal related court cases. Once I was an expert witness in a case about a house full of reptiles that exploded. I was hired to talk about the values of the animals involved. The case was dismissed and that was the end of it. Lucky me, I was paid handsomely for the few hours of work I did.

Another time when I was running an animal rescue, I took in a bunch of animals confiscated in a cruelty case. Again, I never made it to the witness stand. I’m glad about that because I was a nervous wreck just thinking about it.

Today as I left the courthouse, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief even though I was not involved in the case. I think it was instinctual. The bumper to bumper ride up the JFX was as welcome as the fresh air of freedom.

If you are ever considering committing a crime, I recommend visiting a courthouse, even if it is a civil case. That will definitely get you on the road to being a good citizen.

Why my dog is named George Karl

photo-64Going way off topic for this blog, but since it has been on my mind I decided to share.

I lost my retired racing greyhound, Andy Warhol, to cancer in early February. It was sudden and shocking, and I’m still trying to get over it.

I started to foster a new dog and my life got turned on its ear. He is mischievous, curious and wants to lift his leg all over the place. To add to the confusion, the poor animal has been walking around with no name for over a month now. He will respond to Dog or Doggie, because he’s been called that for so long. He came with the name Coji Love. I have had four other greyhounds and I do not like to keep their racing names. It seems like he has a new life, he should have a new name. Finally inspiration intervened.

For the past month every time people visited my house, they came up with 10-20 different name ideas. I even tried an online survey where over 60 people voted and still was not satisfied. Most of the name suggestions were pretty good, but I couldn’t find the one that sold me.

While watching the Washington Wizards game on TV the other night, a name popped into my head. And that name was George Karl.

George Karl, the humanGeorge Karl is an inspiration to everyone he knows and millions he does not know. He battled cancer twice and won. He is a former NBA player and coached five NBA teams in his career. Years ago, he coached Sean Kemp when he was with the Seattle Supersonics leading them to the NBA finals. More recently he led the Denver Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony. Last year, George Karl won Coach of the Ye
ar with Denver, and yet they did not renew his contract. He now works doing commentary on ESPN. It would be great to see him coaching again some day.

While undergoing cancer treatment a few years ago, his partner Carol, kept a blog. I read it faithfully to follow his progress. The blog is still there to inspire others.

Out of the four greyhounds I have owned, three have died of cancer. My hope is that with a name like George Karl, cancer will be frightened away from this guy.