Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Screw Screw Bang Bang

Every twenty years, whether I need it or not, I have to go into a frenzy of home improvement. Once you get started it’s hard to stop. More accurately, it’s hard to know where to begin and where to end. The last time we replaced a rotten back door. A hundred fifty thousand dollars later we had a new back door. And a new kitchen/great room, roof, furnace, and fire sprinkler system that was retrofitted throughout the old part of the house. We also built an upstairs master suite.

This time the same back door was rotten again. I’m starting to see the appeal of plastic. The top of the Dutch door was fine, but the lower part was full of dry rot. Then we replaced a rotten window and did use vinyl. That one came out so well that we replaced another old, aluminum window. A fence along the side of the house, a new gate and a window that turned into a door were also necessary.

When one project is finished the eye goes to the next project. At least my eye does. Eric just puts his fingers his ears and says “La, la, la”, hoping to divert my attention. Impossible. I get very focused when I’m doing projects. The door from the kitchen to the garage was out. The new, pretty fiberglass fire-resistant model took its place.

The closet under the stairs really needed to be turned into a tiny powder room. Obviously. It also needed wallpaper and a mini chandelier. Mandatory. And while we were at it, the downstairs bathroom finally had a fan installed.

Princess Potty Room.

Throughout the process we got up close and personal with a number of trades. It takes skill to work on your house. Skill and an abundance of patience. Scheduling, organizing and most of all, waiting. I had to resort to begging in several circumstances. There is a LOT of work out there now. It kind of makes me miss the recession.

I found a combo plumber/electrician, Glen, who was extremely competent, but also frustrating. He would squeeze me in when he could, but I ended up telling him he was worse than an obstetrician on call. He agreed. He said he’d go to bed and have no work and wake up and have seven emergency calls. There were many days when installing the mini chandelier in the princess potty room just did not rate.
Glen and his tools. 

We were so desperate for progress we even did some work ourselves. Eric and I put together and installed a cabinet. We put up a couple shelves and did some trim. When the handyman got in a car accident and couldn’t work we really had to get serious with the tools. I even bought a little circular saw, but Eric hasn’t let me use it. I’m allowed to measure and mark. He does the cutting.

When Allie and her roommates moved into an apartment off-campus at UConn, they had to put things together using hammers and screwdrivers. This activity was called, “Screw, screw, bang, bang.” There have been many recent evenings when we did screw, screw, bang, bang until after nine at night. It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

Our favorite worker was the window and door installer, Yuri. A portly Ukrainian Jew, the man knows his trade. He’s brilliant at hanging doors and even repurposed a couple old doors for me with aplomb. He worked on Sundays and it would take an entire day to install a door. Several times he did screw, screw, bang, bang at our house until well past dark.

We even invited Yuri to eat with us because he’s such a nice guy and Eric and he would talk about history, but he always refused. He wouldn’t even accept a beer. Yuri did manage to make Eric terribly jealous the last time he was over. Eric tore apart the junk drawer looking for the manual to the irrigation timer, to no avail. I pointed out that the directions were in the binder with all the other manuals. I may have sounded a wee bit impatient. Not two minutes later Yuri came in asking where I’d put a piece of half round trim. I was about to start digging through the mess that is now the garage, but Yuri spotted instantly. “”You’re a genius!” I exclaimed.

Of course Eric heard this and accused me of liking guys who can make things and find things more than I like him. I do like a guy who is good with his hands and I can relate to a fellow with a lot of tools. It’s true. I admire people who make things. Like my father did, like my brother does.

I love hardware stores and I miss them in our town. We used to have four and now we have one. If Goodman’s doesn’t have it I have to drive several towns away for supplies. Home Depot is fine, but it’s not the same as an old-fashioned hardware store or lumberyard. I adored going to the hardware store with my father when I was little. I’m still crazy for the smell of sawdust, toxic as it may be.

As much as I enjoy spending my days with virtual strangers who are making holes in the house and incredibly dusty messes, I’m ready to not have pick-up trucks parked out front. If it’s not done now, it’s not gonna get done. Also, tradesmen seem to trash the work of other trades. Twice our new irrigation pipes have been broken by a carpenter or handymen. It’s so frustrating to have things break before you’re even finished paying for them.

The sounds of screw, screw, bang, bang will be no more. There will only be the plink of me opening the paint can. I’m painting doors and trim and then I’ll attack the risers. I paint in my spare time, while I listen to music or edifying TED talks. At the rate I’m going I should be finished by Christmas. Painting trim is kind of relaxing for me. It’s a peaceful time to think. Best of all, if I need some blue tape or a new paintbrush, I can just walk over to the paint store. Imagine that.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Travel Luck

Now that's ironic. 

With certain exceptions, I’ve always been a pretty good traveller. I can keep myself entertained and enjoy noticing local trends. I tend to have more time to write when I’m away from home and get inspired by new surroundings. When you travel, you are, by definition, on a break from your normal life. It can be the pause that refreshes. It can also be so harrowing, so isolating and so incredibly expensive that you scurry back to your front porch swing vowing to never leave it again.

The pain of traveling is akin to the pain of childbirth. You forget how much it hurts. I must have forgotten that pain. I birthed three babies. It hurts so much while it’s happening, but what you can achieve through the process can be indescribably life changing. You are not the same after you’ve given birth, and you are not the same person you were before you’ve taken a trip. I would even venture to say that most any trip will change you in some way. Prejudices can be obliterated and, just as quickly, they can be formed.

I am on my way home from an interesting trip. At this moment, I am on a US Airways flight. Since yesterday, the day I was supposed to be home, I have been developing a serious prejudice against, if not a complete hatred for, this particular airline. This airline, which is merging with American Airlines to become the largest carrier in the world, could not get me home because of a few sprinkles in Boston. This “weather related” delay (read Act of God) caused me to miss a tight connection in Philadelphia.

It became obvious, while still in Boston, that I would not make a flight that was supposed to depart 35 minutes after arrival in a perfect world. US Airways is not a perfect world. It’s a perfect storm. These days, with passenger planes being shot out of the sky, we are lucky travelers if we land safely. I know that. It’s always top of mind, yet logistical realities abound and passengers are people, too.

Option number one was to remain in Boston and take an early morning flight, which would then connect somewhere because US Airways is not fond of direct flights. I’m rather fond of them, myself, but since this was a ticket I could not use to go to my stepmother’s memorial service in March, I’m stuck with it. Huge concert and Red Sox game in Boston so the word came back there were no hotel rooms.

I decided to forge ahead to Philly and take my chances. My flight to San Francisco, was, of course, on time and was long gone when I landed. I got in the “customer service” line at ten after nine and by 10:15 pm I had a flight for today and a hotel voucher, which was worthless. When I called the number they said all the distressed rooms in Philadelphia were gone. They suggested I call the hotel directly and book a room, but I’d have to pay full freight.

I called the Airport Marriott, which I could see out the window. They told me I could have a room for $189. Ugh. I seriously contemplated just staying in the airport but when I really thought about it I couldn’t stand the idea. Imagining that eerie time of night after all the red eyes left and nobody was around just propelled me to the hotel.

When I got to the desk the guy was arrogant and imperious. He had me and he knew it and wouldn’t honor the rate I was quoted on the phone, or a distressed rate or a Triple A rate. Those rooms were all gone. There were rooms but not any bargain rooms. He offered to give me a list of other hotels but admitted they’d be just as expensive, if not more. He suggested I take a shuttle out of town to a Quality Inn. By this point it was 10:30 pm and I’d had no dinner. The Marriott Hotel Bar was closing in 30 minutes.

I caved and checked in and no, the rate did not include breakfast. The bill slipped under my door totaled $264.50. What bothered me most was that the two nights before I’d paid under $250 a night to stay at the historic Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine. I’d rather have just stayed there! The hotel is located right on the Atlantic! And it included a full buffet breakfast, a private beach and a huge saltwater pool. Admittedly, I had one of the noisiest, low rent rooms, located right by the stairwell and the veranda, but come on. The location is magical, mystical, spiritual.
The Colony Hotel. 

 My trip started off beautifully and it was lovely to have some “me” time. By the third day on my own I was getting a little lonely (especially at dinner) and looked forward to joining my friends at their country place in the Berkshires. That did not happen. They had a death in the family and had to stay in NYC for the funeral and Shiva.

Since I couldn’t see my friends, had no plans and nowhere to go, I decided to go home early. I have a real estate listing that needs attention as well as some other projects. But I didn’t go home. I ended up in the Marriott. I have flown many times but never once missed a connection. My room smelled like mildew so I asked to be moved. Mr. Imperious Himself came up and escorted me to the 15th floor. That room was almost as bad but I turned off the air conditioner and the musty smell got better. They must need to clean their air filters.

This morning I stumbled to the bathroom, grabbed something in my makeup bag and gashed my right thumb on a razor. It began bleeding profusely, dripping down my arm. I started to feel sick from the pain and the sight of the blood and broke out in a sweat. Naked, near panic, I imagined the likely scenario of needing to get stitches, missing my plane again (this time my fault), staying overnight again at the smelly Philly Marriott. Alone. I gave myself a very firm talking to. I willed myself to keep it together and prioritize. First, get dressed.

When I left Marblehead my suitcase was packed with precision. I’d stopped in some roadside antique stores in Maine. I bought a sweet white cake stand for $10 and a little pitcher. It was all I could fit. The weathervanes wouldn’t fit in the carry-on. Because of the layover I had exploded the suitcase. Still bleeding, I had to dress myself with my right wrapped in a towel held up. I had to shove the clothes (and everything else) back into the suitcase with one hand. It wasn’t even to close to closing. I sat on it and heard the crunch of the cake stand breaking. Oh well. More room for everything else!
The cake stand.
Somehow I made it downstairs, through security and to my gate. All this time I kept pressure on the wound with a washcloth. Whenever I stopped it started to bleed again. I saw a TSA agent and asked him if he knew where First Aid was located. He told me he had no idea and I commented that he wasn’t the guy to call if somebody was hurt. Not really appreciating my attempt at humor, he told me that if there were an emergency he’d just call 911. Thanks, pal. That’s why you have to work for the TSA and I get to be an unpaid, self-appointed, yet terribly glamorous, travel writer.

A lovely woman at the Information Booth fixed me up with a bunch of bandages and lots of folks were kind enough to offer to lift my bag into the overhead compartment. While we’ve been flying across country I’ve been mentally adding up the costs of the delay. In addition to $264.50 for the room (I didn’t even take a shower there), my dinner last night was $36 (quinoa salad with chicken and one glass of wine), Starbucks this morning was almost $9 for breakfast and then we got to buy ourselves lunch on the plane. Lucky us! For $8.39 you get four crackers, one strawberry, eight grapes, a few walnut crumbles and several blobs of cheese. Yummy!

It’s not just me. When the delays occurred, many folks were inconvenienced, some to a far greater extent. We’ve already had a horrible experience with this airline. When Eric was returning from Scotland, after almost three weeks abroad, he flew US Airways from Dublin to Philadelphia. There was a weather related delay (read Act of God) and somehow he ended up in Las Vegas. I went to SFO to get him and he never arrived. I went home and he finally called saying he was in Las Vegas and that he had to stay there. US Airways would go no further. We were so disgusted by that point that I booked him a hotel room and a flight home the next morning on another carrier.

Of course we ate the expense, but at that juncture we just needed to get him home. He was exhausted, traumatized and severely pissed off. I can relate. He kept saying he just wanted to go home and sit on the porch and never leave. That was three years ago. I think he’s still there.

When you travel by US Airways these days you must buy your own food, pay to check a bag, pay a fee for priority boarding fee AND listen to sales pitches by flight attendants for credit cards. I could deal with the aforementioned if the airline gets me where I am supposed to go. And if they don’t, give me some compensation such as a free flight or a night in a hotel. No such luck. 
The view from the Airport Marriott.

My boarding pass has a lovely message on the back. It says “Thanks for traveling with us today. All of us at US Airways are committed to providing the best customer service and your feedback will help us continue to improve! Please let us hear from you at the address below. Thank you for taking the time to contact us and for your business. Mailing address: Customer Relations
                                               4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd. Phoenix, AZ 85034
                 Email address: http://www.usairways.com/feedback

They will hear from me. If you’ve had a similar problem, I hope they hear from you, too.
My worthless hotel voucher.