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?

Too Stunned to Come Up with Titles…

Supposed to be a chilly 116 today. Brrrr! Break out the down jackets! 😀

The heat isn’t the issue: humidity is. We have a skiff of high overcast this morning, and it is like a freaking sauna out there! Walked the dog about 3/4 of our usual doggie route, stopping to chat with my crony Margie about our favorite subject, the (mis)State of the Union. That ole’ Goldwater Girl hates Trump as much as I do! 😀

LOL! For a Republican president to piss off a classic Arizona Republican…that takes some doin’. Impressive accomplishment!

For the past few idle hours, I’ve been coveting a nice shiny new pick-up. Sounds crazy…but…

Around here, it makes some sense to drive a pick-up or an SUV, because the occupants of our roads and freeways are batshit crazy. Speed limits are fairly high, and your fellow homicidal drivers are…exactly that: homicidal. Many are armed. And some are very dangerous. So you want a few layers of steel (or at least plastic…) between yourself and your fellow lunatics. You need at least a 6-banger — an 8-banger is a little much unless you tow a big load, but the piddly little engines that grace most passenger cars today will not suffice to dodge out of a challenging situation. It also helps to have a driver’s seat that puts you where you can see on down the road, thereby allowing you to evade some adrenaline-stimulating moments.

At any rate, the short-bed Chevy (ooohh candy-apple red!!!!!!!!!) will not fit in my garage. Well. It would. But not and also leave room for the washer & dryer. 😀 This explains why so many of the natives leave their pricey rides parked in the driveway, where the local bums break into them. If I had a side yard where I could park it… Hmmmm…. Y’know…they’re going to gate off our alleys, by way of discouraging the resident bums from sleeping behind our yards and jumping the walls into our yards to steal stuff and molest three-year-olds. I wonder…would they allow you to park a vehicle behind your yard, in the gated alley? What would stop you from rebuilding a wall so as to provide a pullout to stash a vehicle?

Heeee! Speaking of the resident Bums vs. the resident Young Urbanites…you should’ve seen what came trotting past me & the pooch this morning.

We’re just approaching Upper Richistan when what should come jogging down Richistan Lane but the most spectacular nubile you’ve ever seen in your life.

Her long, lush hair, which would flow about halfway down her back if she paused long enough for it to settle down, is tied back in a thick ponytail and swinging luxuriantly in the air with every long, graceful stride she makes. A pair of shorts cut off at tush level reveal every inch of her long, graceful legs, and then some. She is drop-down-dead gorgeous, and her every move shouts “CFM.”

And then the locals complain about sh*theads stalking them around the park? Seriously? What is the matter with people?

Of course, the lady had no clue that just yesterday as the hound and I were walking along Richistan Lane about three blocks closer to Gangbanger’s Way, we passed a bum snoozing in the shrubbery in front of one of the horse properties up there. But still…if you live here, you know the oleanders serve as bum motels. And you know most of our honored bums are half out of their heads on meth and other drugs…or just natively out of their heads.

*****

And speaking of “we’ve been cooped up in our houses too long,” this morning at the Sprouts I intercepted THE single BEST come-on I’ve ever heard, bar none:

I’m stalking across the parking lot toward the store’s entrance, all gussied up in the required mask (red flowers: an Amazon special!) and with an antiseptic wipe in hand to scrub down the grocery cart handle. Coming out of the store is a slender middle-aged man. Says he, from behind his strip of cloth, “I LOVE your mask!”

Heeeeee! Is that good, or is that great?

***** Otherwise: GAAAAHHHHHHH!*****

When a trip to the grocery store leaves you craving a bourbon and water at 10:45 in the morning….

So I get to the Sprouts about 5 minutes before their advertised opening time, 9 ayem. The parking lot is half-full, and customers are already marching out with loads of groceries. Ducky.

And indeed, there are plenty of people in the store, milling around and rubbing elbows.

Manage to find most of the stuff on the shopping list, at times with difficulty. The corn-on-the-cob…forgodsake! They toss it in the bin in the husks, which is fine, except they’ve stuck up a sign enjoining you from pulling back the first inch or so to see whether a given cob is ripe or wilted or…what. So this is a pig-in-a-poke purchase.

But WonderAccountant said she got some really good corn on the cob there, so I thought okayy what the heck.

Later, while I’m soaking all the produce in Dawn after I get back, I do pull off the cornhusks and think…hmmmm…you charged your customers money for this??

Oh well. Better than going hungry. I guess.

Now I roll the cart out to the car, bearing several bags of the coveted produce. Fling wide the gates (of the SUV) and find…what?? WHAAAA????? Sitting there is a small full-size watermelon! 

WTF?  I must have bought it the last time I traipsed to Sprouts, longer ago than I can remember, and forgotten to haul it out of the back of the car. This means two very ominous things:

  1. In no way, nohow, do I remember buying this thing(!!!!!).
  2. It’s been over a week since the last Sprouts expedition, which means that melon has been sitting there in 116 degree heat for day after day.

The senility stuff is starting to get ominous. I mean, maybe it’s one thing to overlook a melon sitting in the back of a vehicle, in a spot where you don’t habitually stash the groceries. But for days I’ve been saying to my self “i want watermelon must get watermelon in next Sprouts run i miss my watermelon…” So…I bought that watermelon purposefully and consciously, paid for it, stashed it in the back of the vehicle, brought it home, unloaded all the groceries around it, and…completely, 100% spaced the thing! 

I seem to be getting more and more weirdly forgetful like this. Just now I went to start the washer. Where’s the laundry detergent? Why isn’t the laundry detergent on top of the dryer? WTF, am I out of laundry detergent?

Well. No. It’s where it’s always been: in a gigantic Costco industrial-supply container set up on the work table next to the dryer, parked in such a way as to make it easy to draw out a half-capful of the stuff per load. And “always been” means for years and years.

Now, I think that is damn scary.

At the Sprouts…picked up a bottle of a woo-woo quack nostrum called melatonin, which is supposed to work wonders for you. One of the wonders is that it supposedly helps you to sleep through the night. So sick of waking up at 3 in the morning am I that I decided to try this stuff. To be fair: the Mayo devotes an entire webpage to it, wherein the authors claim that it indeed does help insomniacs to sleep without interruption. (In my case “interruption” is not le mot juste: at 3 a.m., I’m done sleeping, and it doesn’t matter what time I went to bed…) The Mayo says that taken within reason, the stuff is safe to ingest, and that there’s some science indicating that it works. Why not? Nothin’ ventured…

More to the point, some recent studies suggest that chronic insomnia is associated with increased mortality and with major cardiovascular events, and that daytime napping among the insomniac set is linked not with better outcomes but with greater risk.  Well. Every day I try to make up for the lost nighttime sleep by napping in the afternoon…if you believe this research, that’s suicidal! 😀

All of this is spectacularly vague, IMHO. Think very hard about the structure of these studies, and you come away wondering izzat so??? But that nothwithstanding: it is annoying to be wide awake at three in the morning after a full four hours’ of sleep and not be able to grab even a few more winks between three and dawn.

So…we’re justifying the woo-woo snake oil not with science but with a craving to be less annoyed….

At any rate, the richly aged watermelon is in the fridge. It doesn’t have any soft spots on it, so I think there’s an outside chance (way, way outside, as in the outer reaches of the Oort Belt) that it hasn’t spoiled. We shall see. Eventually. All of the other produce and items packed in water-resistant plastic have been soaked in Dawn and cold water, rinsed, dried, and put away.

WHAT a job it is to try to disinfect every goddam piece of produce that comes into your house.

My mother did this every time she went to the commissary for TEN LONG YEARS while we lived in Arabia. Horrors!

We surely fail to appreciate what it means to live in a First-World country. 

Shopping without Shopping…

So this morning I determined to put my life on the line and make a Costco run, after dropping off a client’s check at the credit union. This would normally be routine around here: the CU is right on the way to the Costco on the I-17, and so two errands are easily run in one trip. And that Costco is better stocked than the down-at-the-heels store closer to the ‘Hood — a store slated to be closed permanently in a couple months.

On reflection, though… Why?

Seriously: covid figures are going batshit here. At this point, Arizona is as bad off as New York was at the height of its contagion, and our whole state probably doesn’t have as many people as NYC does. Why risk my health and very possibly my life by charging into the germ-laden atmosphere of a wholesale big-box store? Is that or is that not freakin’ kee-razy?

Well, yes, that is pretty lunatic.

So the decision was made: hold the check until the next one shows up, and hold the suicidal shopping jaunt — indefinitely. Instead, order up the coveted items through Instacart.

There are some drawbacks to Instacart, the main one being that because relatively few Americans make a habit of eating whole foods, most of Instacart’s runners have NO clue how to select fresh produce. Nor do they recognize a decent variety of cheese — to them, all cheese is Kraft rubber cheese, and that is what they will grab off the shelf if you ask for cheddar. Even if you ask for a specific brand! 😀

Costco has self-righteously announced that it will not sell alcoholic beverages of any kind through delivery services. So that means if you need to restock the wine, you have to make a SEPARATE order to some other store. So now I’m waiting for someone to show up from Costco and someone to show up from Total Wine. This, IMHO, is mildly annoying. Not a big deal, but…annoying. Time-wasting. Tip-wasting: now I have to tip two runners instead of the one who was really all that was necessary.

Also problematic is that when it comes to Costco, Instacart sends its staff to the one closest to the delivery address. Well. Our Costco, which will close permanently in another month, is located in a slum. Just the other day a woman was killed in the park there by a drive-by shooter. It’s not a place you would willingly go, if there were an easy alternative. And, like any other sensibly run retail enterprise, Costco markets to the local demographics. So a number of things that are available at Costco stores in more middle-class and up-scale locales are not offered at our Costco. Chunk blue cheese, for example. Apparently the only thing pore folks know to do with blue cheese is crumble it up and sprinkle it over a salad. Hence, the only blue cheese you can get there comes in crumbles packed into a plastic container.

But all in all, my sense is that Instacart has more benefits than drawbacks. Videlicet:

Most obviously, it saves you time and gasoline wasted traipsing around the city. I haven’t bought gasoline since the first of April, largely because I’m not traipsing to stores every day or two.

In the Time of Plague, it puts a layer between you and the Infected, reducing the chance that you will catch the dread disease.

As you get older and can no longer navigate insane traffic and acre-sized stores, Instacart makes it possible for you to stay in your home rather than having to move to a life-care community.

On the other hand…

The Instacart lady just arrived. Instead of the deli-packaged black olives I’d ordered, she bought a bottle of icky green factory olives. The salt I’d ordered, which I thought was coarse-ground, is actually fine-ground and so cannot be used in my salt grinder.

That latter is not her fault: she picked up the item I pointed to online…I failed to realize it wasn’t coarse-ground.

Therein lies another drawback: miscommunication.

Soooo…oh goodie gumdrops! Now I get to sit around and wait for the delivery from Total Wine. Then climb in my car, traipse to Costco, stand in line at the return desk, and try to extract a refund for these useless items.

Directly obviating the specific reason for paying extra for Instacart delivery: to avoid exposure to the covid virus.

The Wine Stash gambit

Okay, tell me what you think of this.

It may be crazy. Hevvin only knows, I am crazy. But what heaven really does know, I personally know not. Soo…tell me if this sounds sane to you, or like yet another variety of madness.

I like a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. Indeed, I like that so much that I ain’t a-doin’ without it.

However, Costco, where I usually supply my stash, has decreed that delivery services such as the beloved Instacart may no longer purchase alcoholic beverages for delivery to customers. I was able to snag a couple bottles and a box of KiltLifter (presently the preferred brew) from Total Wine, but frankly, having to order this, that and the other product from this, that, and the other retailer is what we call a damn nuisance.

It occurs to me that if I’d had a decently stocked wine cellar (or stash, since this house has no cellar… 🙂 ), the bar services would present much less of a problem.

It being never too late to start…here’s my plan:

1. From Total Wine, I order up one box (12 bottles, I believe) of my favorite cheap red and one box of my favorite cheap white.

Note that at this point I now have a lifetime supply of booze. Two crates of wine would, if never replenished, last me a good three or four months.

2. Each time I consume a bottle of this priceless hoard, I order or (one day, I hope, purchase in person) a new bottle, only in a finer vintage than the $8 specials I favor.

3. Keep drinking the cheap stuff, unless guests are here. After a period, all of the plonk will be consumed, and it will all be replaced better wines!

Et voilà! A stash of fancy wines!

My life is improved. The wine industry is supported. And when the next catastrophe hits, I will never feel deprived.

Is that or is that not a brilliant scheme? And what positive changes has the covid bug brought about in your life?

Amazon Reviews: Take ’em with a grain of salt

A few weeks ago, I ordered up a handsomely reviewed mosquito zapper from Amazon. Even though lovely Arizona has relatively few little biters, they do come up in the spring, a nuisance when you often have the doors and windows open to take advantage of the lovely weather. A squadron of the little F-16s had taken up residence in the family room, where I like to lounge in comfort to work on client projects.

So I bought this gadget that’s supposed to electrocute the little ladies by luring them into its trap with a blue light. Must work, because all those reviewers said so, right ?

Soon as the thing arrives, I plug it into a socket in Mosquito Central and await, with delicious anticipation, the wholesale slaughter of the marauders.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait….

Nary a zap. Left the thing on all day and into the night. Got another few bites. But no zapped skeeters.

Having over-anticipated the delights of this device, I’d thrown out the package, so returning it to Amazon was not an option. But I did post a one-star review describing this buggy débâcle. Tossed the thing in the trash. And didn’t think much more about it.

Until… Along came this communiqué from one Paul Bernthal, regarding “Compensation 21,71+20$ for your Bug Zapper Amazon Order!”:

Hello, Victoria. I’m Paul. I heard that our Bug Zapper didn’t work out for you.

We want to get you a compensation for a few minutes of your time:

1) I send you a Full Refund: 21,71$ via Amazon and kindly ask you to Delete your review.
2) I can send you a Full Refund + 20$ Amazon Gift Card, for changing your review to 5 Star Rating.

No need to change the Text. We don’t have a problem with objective opinions of our customers.

Our problem lies in the system of rating on Amazon, so I’m asking for your help

We’re trying to improve our product. But my main task is to get in touch with you and smooth out the “lemon product” situation, at least by providing a nice customer service

Please, choose one of the options and let me know. We can nail it really fast without wasting your time!

Your Review if you’d like to help us: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RRLPRWYTCDYI1/ref=cm_cr_getr_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0855SVWS2

Hmm… Suspicions confirmed, eh? If you’ve ever wondered if some of those rave reviews on Amazon are bought & paid for, this shoos away any cloud of doubt, no?

Well, no: Not for love nor money would I recommend this useless piece of junk to any other hopeful mosquito assassins. I ignored this message and went on about my business.

But this guy was not to be put off. Couple days later, a follow-up hits the in-box

Hello, Victoria. Need help with changing or can we propose a better deal?🙂

And he pastes in his original offer.

Persistent little bug, isn’t he?

My reply?

Sorry. My ethics are not for sale.

Well. Explains all the rave reviews for the piece of junk, anyway.

Though this is the first incontrovertible proof I’ve seen that Amazon reviews are bought and paid for behind the scenes, it’s something I’ve quietly assumed to be the case. And therein lies the reason that I always start with the one-star reviews when considering what product to buy from that worthy monopolist.

First step in evaluating Amazon reviews is to look at the proportion of positive and negative reviews, as compared with the total number. There will always be complainers, malcontents, and whiners, and so you have to take what they say with the proverbial grain. I figure about 6 percent  negative is normal in the “can’t please all the customers all the time” department. If much more than 6 percent of shoppers have posted one-star reviews, that’s a red flag. Anything less than 6 percent? meh!

Next I look at the five-star and sometimes the four-star reviews, trying to discern what people claim to like about the thing. I tend to take these raves with a large grain of salt. Obviously, it has to be pretty easy to acquire positive reviews — you probably can hire people on Fiverr to write them for you, if you’re too embarrassed to put your friends up to it. Finally I go to the three-star reviews. Here, I expect to find honest remarks that haven’t been bought and paid for, and that are not influenced by excessive delight or by frustration and annoyance.

It was one thing for this guy to email me an offer of a bribe. But to keep pestering me was  beyond the pale. I tried to forward his email to Amazon but found a) it’s now impossible to reach a human there (didn’t use to be!) and b) Amazon’s management apparently doesn’t give a damn.

So the message here is what you always knew, of course: a fair number of the reviews you see on Amazon are fake. Buyer beware.

Learned from the Covid Plague…

So…what have you learned from your experience with the Covid Confinement and Overall Hysteria? Hereabouts, I have learned a lot these past couple of months, locked up in my house as though I were in Leavenworth’s solitary confinement row. Other than to walk the dog, I’ve been out of my house…what? twice? maybe three times since the first of April.

You wouldn’t think an inmate would gain much insight from just sitting around for day after day after day. But…to the contrary: a number of revelations have dawned, some small but a few large enough to make significant lifestyle changes.

For example…

  • Very possibly we gad around a lot more than we need to. I’ve bought a third of a tank of gas since the first of March. We’re eight days into June — more than three months later! — and my car does not need a refill.

Normally I buy gas about once every 10 days to two weeks.

  • The prepper strategy of storing up to a year’s worth of food and household supplies is not so crazy, after all.

As things get back to normal (if they ever do), I intend to store up at least three months’ worth and preferably more like six months’ to a year’s worth of nonperishable and frozen food, wine, and cleaning supplies.

Also, buy a case of your favorite wine, beer, soda pop, bottled water, or whatever. Keep it full: as you use one bottle, buy another to replace it.

  • Delivery services such as Instacart are awesomely wonderful, despite occasional lapses. If you plan your shopping carefully, these folks could help you to avoid boring trudges to grocery stores and Costco altogether once life returns to normal.

Their main drawback, for people who like to cook and to eat healthy foods, is that their runners apparently eat like most Americans do — out of boxes, cans, bags, and jars, or largely at restaurants — and so they have no clue how to select fresh produce.

A secondary drawback is that Instacart charges you more than in-store prices. Thus the privilege of having someone trudge through a store and then drive your purchases to your front door costs you a whole lot more than just the cost of Instacart’s chintzy tip to employees. There are times when this cost is richly worth it: if entering a grocery store entails risking your life, obviously a few extra bucks is not a barrier. And when you reach your dotage and are in no condition to traipse around a store that covers more than an acre — such as Costco — you would be well served by spending a bit more to get someone else to do the chore. It’s still a lot cheaper than selling everything you own to buy into a life-care community… But do be prepared to slip the runner an extra tip: they are not paid enough!

  • Use caution with Amazon.

Many of the vendors on Amazon gouge during a panicky period, even when the products they’re selling are plentiful and easy enough to buy in brick-and-mortar stores.

  • In a prolonged shopping panic, your pet’s favorite food is likely to be in short supply.

Especially if you have a picky cat, always have a substantial store of your pet’s food on hand.

  • So are basic products needed for at-home cooking, such as flour, yeast, salt, coffee, tea, chicken or beef broth, and the like.

Always have an ample supply of these on hand. Keep flour and yeast in the freezer. If you usually have one box, bag, or package of these, you should have two on hand.

  • Keep twice as much of any given staple as you would ordinarily buy.

For example, your pantry should have two boxes of salt, not one; two bags of flour, not one; two packages of pasta, not one…and so on to infinity. As soon as you run out of the first box and open the second box of, say, salt, buy a new second box next time you run to the store…so that you always have an extra supply of any staple product.

  • Same is true for household maintenance supplies.

Keep an ample supply of paper towels, toilet paper, dish detergent, laundry detergent, dishwasher tabs, window cleaner, toilet cleaner, and hand soap on hand at all times. Do not wait for these things to run out before restocking.

  • Keep your car’s gas tank topped up at all times, emergency or no emergency.

Never let it get below about 1/3 full.

  • If you cook on a propane grill, always have on hand at least three bottles of propane, and keep them full. Remember that if power fails, a backyard grill or hibachi may be the only way to cook food.

Don’t leave a bottle sitting around empty waiting to be refilled whenever you get around to it. Schlep it to the propane place as soon as it’s empty.

  • Keep fit with regular exercise, whether it’s walking, running, in-home workouts, or yoga.

If you’re allowed out of the house, bicycling and roller-skating are good strategies, too.

  • Be sure to keep adequate supplies of OTC meds on hand, as well as bandages, antiseptics, and antibiotic ointments. Same with medicaments for your pet.

You don’t want to run out of aspirin, Band-Aids, antacids, or allergy pills during a time of shortage.

  • You really should have a vegetable garden, no matter how minimal.

This does not have to be a big production. A few medium-sized pots on an apartment balcony will allow you to grow tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, and chard. If you have room, a two- or three-foot deep box will accommodate carrots, beets, turnips, even potatoes.

  • Have a hair style that doesn’t have to be trimmed frequently.

How can I count the ways that that I’m glad I let my hair grow long? When shoulder-length hair grows halfway down your back, what happens is…nothing. You just have long, spectacular hair.

There are going to be some serious changes in the way day-to-day business is done here at the Funny Farm. None of them, on its own, will be earth-changing. But taken together, they should add security and make life a lot simpler the next time a crisis lands on us.

What changes are you making, long-term, based on your covid-19 adventures?