Coffee heat rising

Life in the Department of Looney Tunes…

Phoenix: what a place!

This morning I had to traipse to the dermatologist’s, a 40-minute trek, each way. About half of this journey traverses a seven-lane surface street called Northern Avenue. The odd lane in these big main drags is a center lane restricted to left turns. You can use them to turn left ad lib across oncoming lanes just about anywhere in the middle of any block, but at the major intersections they’re (obviously) controlled by the traffic light. There, you pull out partway into the intersection on the green. Poised in the void between 12 lanes of intersecting vehicles, you stand till the light turns yellow, at which point you floor it and  FLY across the oncoming traffic as though your life depended on it. Which it does. If you can’t cut some oncoming driver off safely or slink in behind him as he shoots past in the opposite direction, you wait till the light turns red and then cruise across three lanes of restless and annoyed drivers. (All Arizona drivers are, by nature, restless and annoyed. Many have certain other features, such as drunk, stoned, crazy, stupid, and whatnot.)

So I’m cruising westerly, westerly, ever westerly when, at 27th Avenue, I come across a nice wrecky-poo in the westbound left-turn lane. A moron has miscalculated and driven out in front of a cross-bound vehicle. Speed limit on these streets is 40 mph, which means everyone is driving 50 mph. Not surprisingly, the moron’s truck has been creamed. The front end is crumpled tinfoil. A cop is trying to restore order. Passersby are gawking. An ambulance approaches.

My coconspirators and I manage to sneak through the green light before another emergency vehicle arrives and while the cop is distracted with trying to deal with the smashed vehicles’ occupants.

Back up to speed, we approach 35th Avenue — this is the next intersection on down the road! From a distance, we can see flashing lights and…and…yes!!! ANOTHER wrecky-poo!

This one defies belief.

As we approach the intersection, we find a good-sized pickup — Silverado or F250 size — in the left-turn lane. A moron has rear-ended this vehicle, apparently at speed. IN THE FREAKING LEFT-TURN LANE! Moron’s car is unrecognizable. But he’s managed to smash into the truck so hard that he’s pretty well bashed in the truck’s bed and its rear wheel wells, and…get this… A wheel on the moron’s vehicle has sprung loose intact from the car and it has rolled down the road and underneath the rear end of the truck, where it is now wedged, standing upright.

WTF?????

This also appears to have happened just a few moments ago. A couple of befuddled-looking cops are on the scene starting to wrangle some stunned-looking participants. We who are passing drivers push on, before these cops can think to hold up the traffic, and we all escape intact.

Ahhhh…. Just imagine how stoned or drunk you would have to be to believe the center two-way left-turn lane is another ordinary traffic lane, so that you’re cruising along at 40 to 50 mph in it. And accordingly, because you figure everyone else is doing the same, you don’t happen to notice that the guy in front of you is stopped. With his left-turn signal flashing.

What a place, indeed!

Scam Alert

One ringie-dingie…two ringie-dingies… In comes a robocall from some outfit claiming to be Amazon, saying I’d made a $400 charge there and they were calling to confirm that.

This is complete BS.

DO NOT ENGAGE with these crooks. Check your Amazon account for charges, and then contact Amazon’s customer service. They will check further to be sure nothing is amiss.

If you’re senior-citizen age or you have older relatives, you should be aware and alert older folks to this scam. Crooks get age-related lists of names and phone numbers from outfits like AARP and target older people with this sort of hustle, because elders tend to be more trusting or more easily confused than younger people. Hang up on them!

Inflation

So I’m sittin’ around here (actually, slamming around doing some housework and unplugging the kitchen drain) when for unknown reasons the brain decides to reflect on bygone quarrels between my mother and my father over the way she used to spend “his” money.

In those days, it was almost impossible for a woman to get a job that paid more than pocket change. At one point my mother got a real estate license and went to work for a broker who was peddling property at the Salton Sea (we lived in Southern California at the time) — it was quite the little scam, from which she made approximately nothing. Actually, I believe her take was in the negative numbers, by the time you added up the gasoline and the cost of the damage to the car’s paint from sandstorms out on the desert. So in fact, whatever we lived on was what he earned.

My father deeply resented the way she would spend “his” money, although we did not live high off the hog in general. We rented mid- middle-class apartments, drove Fords, never traveled, did not go out to eat, did not gallivant to speak of. But she did like to buy clothes and makeup and she did like to shop in department stores. One time when he was home from the ship he happened upon a bill from a department store, the result of which was quite a sh!tfit, in which he ordered her to “stop spending my money.”

She used to shop in this department store, not far from where we lived…she was a hopeless sucker for the cosmetics salesladies. It was a nice middle-class store, but nothing swell-elegant. It was probably a Broadway: on the order of a Dillard’s. Not I. Magnin or Saks, but not Penney’s either.

She liked to wear lots of makeup and lots of perfume. Because she smoked a LOT, her skin was a mess to begin with and she needed perfume to temper the tobacco stink. And we’d spent 10 years in Saudi Arabia at a time when people imagined that a “healthy tan” was good for you. This meant her face was your basic shoe leather, the result being that every morning she would sit down in front of her dressing table and coat herself in layer after layer of moisturizers, cover-ups, foundation, rouge, and powder. An easy target for a sales pitch, she never understood (or rather, she refused to believe) that there was essentially no difference between a cheap make-up like, say, Coty, Avon, or Revlon and pricey stuff like Estée Lauder, and so she would allow herself to be talked into buying a whole line of spectacularly expensive products.

I can remember standing around a cosmetics counter with her as she browsed and bought and yakked and browsed and bought and yakked and finally we came away with something over $100 in make-up and perfume. This was in Southern California, so I would have been in my first or second year of high school — 1960 or 61.

Know how much a hundred bucks in 1961 is worth in 2020 dollars? Eight hundred sixty-nine dollars and twenty-nine cents! 

Holy sh!t!!

No wonder the poor guy blew a gasket! That would have been as much as he earned in a month — maybe more — going to sea full-time! As a Merchant Marine commander with a license to sail oil tankers of any tonnage on any ocean…

When I went to the University of Arizona in 1962, my father gave me $1000 a year to live on. It was enough to pay my tuition, the dorm rent, books, and food…with a little left over for clothes and incidentals. In 2020 dollars, that would be almost $1,000 a month, though after my freshman year tuition was essentially free. So…just imagine how outrageous spending a month’s worth of that on make-up would’ve been. 😀

Strange, what crosses your mind when the place is quiet and you have nothin’ else to think about but cleaning the kitchen counters…

Plumbing Update

So…what happened after I showed Steven the (Avaricious) Plumber the door? As you may recall, when I couldn’t reach my regular guy, I’d called another local plumbing outfit which sent a gent around after making me wait upwards of five hours. This character complained that the plumbing under the sink (which has worked fine since I moved into this house 11 years ago) was an out-of-code mess, could not be roto-rooted, and needed to be disassembled and reassembled to clean it out. Proposed fee: $545.

Right. Sure. So I sent that jerk on his way. Posted a query on the Facebook neighborhood group’s page. Two neighbors recommended Maloney’s Plumbing, an outfit I’d never heard of. Gave them a call. And forthwith had a new fella in here.

What. A. Difference!

The guy has got the drain working fine for the nonce. He removed the lever-operated drain plug — an invention whose appeal has always mystified me. A rubber plug I happen to have in hand works just fine and does not annoy, annoy, and annoy some more. He was honest. He was straightforward. He was astonishingly hard-working. And he was very clearly NOT trying to rip me off.

Yes, he did have to take Satan’s do-it-yourself pipework apart to do the job, and yes, it no doubt was a PITA, and yup, it took the poor guy half the afternoon.  But he didn’t try to persuade the Little Old Lady that the job couldn’t be done without disassembling the entire damn bathroom and rebuilding it from the foundation up. For an entire afternoon’s work, he charged me $326.

This, as opposed to the $525 (for starters) the first guy offered up — for starters. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! Maloney’s Plumbing has got a new customer for life…or at least for as long as they treat me fairly.

Soooo… When the dust settles from this damned tooth fiasco, first thing that happens next is I’m hiring those folks to install plumbing to code under that damn sink.

Adventures in Bureaucracy: Motor Vehicle Division

My friend Shannon is trying to help her teenaged daughter get her first driver’s license, an enterprise that has turned into quite the bureaucratic adventure. They called the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division and were flamboozled to be told there were 300 calls ahead of them! When last heard from, she was on Facebook critiquing the Muzak while they waited. 😀

In Arizona, one of the hoops you have to jump through, if you drive a car, is an annual air pollution test nuisance. To drive your car, you have to waste an hour or 90 minutes of your time on that before you can update the registration, which you have to do every year.

Each year – in my case, smack in the middle of the hottest part of the summer – the state sends you a form that you have to drag down to the pollution test site, get certified, and then mail in to the Department of Motor Vehicles (known idiosyncratically as MVD in these parts).

Ummmm….  I don’t recall doing that. True, I’m a senile old bat. But the process is annoying enough that it surely would catch my attention. Especially since I would have enjoyed performing that bit of my civic duty in 118-degree heat.

Did I pay for two years? You can can do that…but…I can’t find the receipt!

Trudge out to the garage: the registration tag on the license plate says “expires in September 2020”!

Ohhhhhhh f!ck!!!!!!!

If a cop catches me with an expired license plate, I’ll get a killer ticket.

No way to find out on the MVD website whether they imagine I’m registered for two years. No way to ask a live human, because presumably there are no humans in attendance. Anywhere.

I can’t not drive my car: you can’t survive in Phoenix without a car.

On a clue from Shannon, I finally found a page where a form invited me to pony up $241 + change to renew the registration. But NOTHING about the emissions test. Normally they don’t allow you to renew your registration without proof that your car passed the emissions test. So I imagined they must have opted it.

I now charge the $241 that I can’t afford on my American Express card and forge on in search of the form to give to the emissions test guys.

But nayyyy, this scheme is not to be.

Online I find a form to fill out to entitle you to a “no contact” emissions test. This also entails your coughing up money, and it requires you to physically go to the emissions test place and be exposed to whatever the members of the public are carrying. In the 118-degree heat.

You have to fill in a VIN number, which I can’t find in the usual place one would find the damn thing on a car.

After a fruitless search, I come back to the computer and try to get to the form you need to take to the emissions test people, so I can fill that in and tote it over to the nearest testing station, so as to get the test done so as to get the car registered. But now I can’t find it online, even though earlier in the day I’d found it but gave up when it demanded the VIN that I couldn’t find on the car. After my son tells me it would be on the insurance card, I try to go back into the site and download the emissions nuisance form. Can’t find it for love nor money.

I message someone unfortunate enough to have his email posted on the Department of Environmental Quality site. He emails back and says later in the day someone from the DEQ will telephone me.

This personable fellow—let’s just call him Bob—surfaces around 4 p.m. 

He says that when you fill out a registration form online, the system will say you can’t enter data until you have the emissions test.

I say wellll….I had no problem filling it out and in fact have a receipt saying “Your vehicle registration renewal is complete…”

He says the only explanation for that is some kind of system glitch.

After a fair amount of back & forth, in which I get the receipt and read the first paragraph to him over the phone, he says (I summarize greatly…) that MVD has such a huge backlog that no one may notice. On reflection, he suggests I may already have paid for a two-year registration, in which case the test is not necessary. If that is the case, it would explain why I never got the paperwork this year.

He proposes the following: On Thursday: check AMEX. If the charge went through, it means MVD accepted the application without the emissions test.

If that’s the case, he says, then just go on about your business and do not waste time with the emissions test. It probably means I paid for two years and do not have to do a test this year,

But, he adds, if  the charge has not gone through by Thursday, call the MVD and ask if an emissions test is required, and ask them to send (or resend) the paperwork. (Reference, if you will, my friend’s experience with this hopeless maneuver…)

HOWEVER, Bob’s guess that I paid for two years is wrong. The vehicle registration receipt from last year, which of course I kept for tax purposes, says it expires 9/30/2020. So clearly there’s some kind of screw-up here.

Apparently things are such a mess down at MVD, they don’t know their collective ass from a hole-in-the-ground. He said it would be the end of September before the tags show up, at soonest. I said I sure don’t want to get a ticket. He said it was extremely unlikely the cops would pull someone over for out-of-date tags. Besides, I have the receipt from MVD stating that the car is registered and registration is paid for.

Why we have emissions tests… Yeah, that IS smog over lovely downtown Phoenix.

Got that? I GOT A GUY FROM DEQ TELLING ME TO IGNORE THE REQUIRED EMISSIONS TEST. Is that off the wall, or what?

This is sounding suspiciously like another piece of mail that got misdelivered to my larcenous neighbor’s house and thrown in the trash. That would be the one who signed for a certified letter addressed to me from my doctor, who couldn’t get through to me on the phone and was trying to tell me I had a nascent cancer and needed to get my a$$ to her office and have it treated. That neighbor.

He did, though, say that the place was pretty much in chaos. So it’s possible that maybe they really didn’t send the annual notice. Except…welll….those things would’ve been-machine generated and stuffed into pre-stamped envelopes. Wouldn’t exactly have required legions of skilled workers…

Apparently state offices are off the tracks because so many staff are either sick or have been told to stay out. Got the impression from Bob that there essentially was nobody there at MVD — that they’re so understaffed the department is inoperative.

Here, the emissions test procedure would put EVERYBODY at high risk of covid. The driver is taken out of the car and told to sit in an enclosed booth. (Yeah: if the guy ahead of you had the bug, you sit there for ten or fifteen minutes breathing in his viruses!) The worker has to get inside the car, handle the controls, and run it for ten minutes or so. So he gets royally exposed to whatever you may be carrying. And if he’s got the virus but is asymptomatic, he’s still contagious, meaning when you get back into your car, you get exposed to whatever bugs he deposited on the steering wheel or breathed into the air.

So…it would seriously make sense to cancel the tests for the duration of the epidemic.

Apparently that’s not what they’ve done here, though. Our Bob said I could just go over to the facility and get the test: no paperwork needed on my end. They give you the paperwork there. BUT, said he, since MVD apparently accepted my application for registration (we quickly found, at the AMEX website, that they’d charged my credit card), he thinks they screwed up and the best thing to do is lay low and go yup yup yup, thankee boss!

The guy theorizes that they messed up at MVD. That’s why he suggested that I wait for a couple of days to see if the charge on the AMEX card goes through. He said if it does and the state accepted the money for the registration bill, then we’re looking at what he called “a glitch in the system”…and what I would call “a f**k-up.”

Gasoline-o-Wow!!!

The dermatologist has summoned me to revisit her redoubt tomorrow morning — on the far side of the universe: south of Sun City, west of terrifying Maryvale. This entails driving driving driving…and guzzling of gallons of gasoline.

The tank was about a third full, which probably would have sufficed to get there and back. But I didn’t want to take a chance, so decided that when I took my mail-in ballot up to the post office today, I would buy some overpriced gasoline at the QT. And while out, run by the Leslie’s Pools store to pick up a replacement for a cracked pump pot basket.

Y’know…the last time I filled the gas tank on that car was May 14. That was two months ago. So that suggests the car used only a third of a tank of gas a month, under the Quarantine Regime.

The amount I pumped this morning — to replace two months’ worth of fuel — came to $20.30.

Now consider this: On April 1, when the present covid imprisonment began, my gasoline budget was ninety dollars a month! And yes, that is how much I regularly spent on gas then.

What has done this trick is ordering groceries, household supplies, and gardening products through Instacart and Amazon. For eight bucks, Instacart will make a run on whatever crazy place you please. And Total Wine, BTW, will deliver for “free.” At eight bucks a trip, two carefully calculated grocery-store or Costco runs per month cost you all of $16. Okay…$20.30 plus $16 will set you back all of 36 bucks…a far cry from $90 worth of gasoline.

What’s racking up that 90 bucks? Running around town to buy this, that, and the other at Costco, Walmart, Albertson’s, Safeway, Home Depot, and waypoints, whenever you happen to think of it. If instead you’re budgeting your car rides — by sending runners to pick up items from those stores and then using your car to travel to local destinations only when you absolutely have to — you could cut your gasoline costs alone by 50% to 66%.

But of course a car’s costs include far more than just gas. There are, for example, the oil changes, the new batteries, the tires, the smog tests, the insurance, the registration fee…and that’s only for newer cars that are relatively trouble-free. And it assumes you’ve paid for the damn thing and are not coughing up anything from $300 to $600 a month for a car loan.

What this suggests is that replacing your car with delivery services, Amazon (which also is essentially a delivery service), and ride services like Uber and Lyft could save you shitloads of money. Even if you kept your car, budgeting your rides to go only to places where you have to show up in person — the doctor, the dentist, the vet, the hair salon, the movie theater — would cut the cost of car ownership drastically.

It might even allow you to get rid of the car altogether. When you really need a car to haul something or go on a vacation, rent one. Otherwise…why pay to park one in your garage 365 days a year?

If you had a redundant two-car garage, what would you use it for?