Saturday, February 20, 2010

Week #7

It was a slow week as far meeting folk, and sort of a sad weekend- my last in Arkansas for a while.  I won't be driving to NY until the 10th of March, but the next two weekends will be spent back in Texas visiting family and friends. 

Today we went down to the H&R block and filed for our tax return.  That's where we met Gladys.  She was a considerably well-rounded lady, with a kind smile, and almost a sickeningly sweet demeanor.  If she hadn't been so consistently nice, patient, and genuinely interested, it would have come across as quite staged- but by the time we were done, I was convinced that she is genuinely wonderful.  We need more people like that.

Tonight a friend of mine arranged a "going away" party for us.  It was really nice of him, and we had friends show up from different circles who'd never even met!  We all gathered at a restaurant for Mexican food, and then migrated over to a small pub called Lucky's that I'd never been to before.  It was a pretty clean little place, small, with one pool table.  A live band was playing- and they were talented.  The volume, however, seemed more suited for a place about 8 times the size of that room.

There was a guy in his mid-fifties, wearing a Razorback jacket, playing pool.  He had graying hair, scruffy cheeks, a baggy 2nd chin, and apparently too much to drink.  The only reason I know his name is because it was etched into his western-style leather belt.  I can't count him as an official acquaintance since I never introduced myself- but didn't really care to.  He was behaving in a way that hopefully would embarrass his children, if he has any-  using his pool cue as an anatomical prop for immature antics. 

The older I get, the more clear it becomes that some people never mature.  I think I must have grown up assuming that everyone eventually becomes as mild-mannered, dignified and self controlled as my parents- I just assumed it was a natural process.  Boy, was I wrong.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Week #6- Just in the nick of time

If you ever want to gain some quick and easy friends, just go shopping for a car.  For some time I've been itching to regain my Man-Card by trading in my Mercury Cougar for a pickup.  Now that we're getting ready to move to a cold and icy state, and may buy a house there, a truck seemed like a worthwhile investment.

On my way down Maumelle Boulevard I ducked into a local used car dealership just to see what they had in stock.  Not much in my price range, it turned out, but I did get to meet Al- a stately middle-aged African American car salesman, and his boss, Carl.  Carl seemed a bit more snake-ish than Al, and for some reason he didn't have any molars- usually the front teeth go first here in Arkansas, go figure.

I managed to escape from their seasoned salesmen spells, and continued on to Lander's Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep  in Benton where, according to, there was a nice 4WD Tacoma for sale.  When I got there I was greeted by Russ, a portly, mustached salesman who told me that what I came to see was sold yesterday-  but he was chock full of alternative options.  He must have had a good feel for what I wanted, I mean, I didn't even know I wanted it.  He led me right to the goldish-tan Dodge 1500 Crew Cab that I would later name D-Biscuit (in case that didn't register, it's a Dodge, it's like riding lots and lots of horses at once, it's a play on Seabiscuit, and yes- I've always named my vehicles.)

I took the truck on a test run, and then parked it up next to the office building where we went to wheel and deal.  Russ stepped out of the deliberation nook to pretend he was price haggling with his manager.  While he was out, I saw an interesting stack of papers on the desk in front of me- picking it up, it was a list of their inventory with exactly the amount they'd paid for each vehicle printed next to their asking price.  I scanned the list for the truck I was interested in and struck gold!

Russ re-entered the room with his manager and handed me a piece of paper with their offer-  they did make a generous offer for my trade, about $500 over the estimated Bluebook price, but hadn't backed off the original asking price that I had read on the inventory list.  I countered.  Russ's boss whined at me, "Come on man, won't you help us out a little?"

I turned to him with a smirk, "I already am, I read the sheet you guys left out here on the desk."

Both of the gentlemen flushed bright red.  The boss man said in a defeated tone, "Oh!" and quickly ducked out of the room- I'd offered them a fair price and everyone new it.  They didn't try to haggle any more when they learned I knew their profit margin.

Next I met Jim, the finance man.  All I had to do was sign a few things since I insisted on paying for the vehicle in full.  It's not as much fun driving a car that belongs to a bank.  The problem was, I'd neglected to bring a check connected to the account that I wished to pay from.  They trustingly handed me the keys to the truck and I ran home to get my checkbook.

Back at the house, that checkbook was in a small fireproof lock-box,  and I ransacked the room looking for its key.  The only place I could imagine it being was attached to the key of my Cougar, which Russ had removed from my keychain while I was talking to Jim.  I put the little safe in the truck and drove all the way back to Benton.  They didn't have my key.

Russ went and collected key chains from his co-workers and futilely searched for one that might work.  I asked them to get Jim to prepare the paperwork for financing it- so I could drive the truck home and just pay it off with the first statement.  A couple of places I hadn't looked for the key came to mind and I was finally able to get in contact with my wife via her defunct telephone.  Miracle of miracles!  She found my not-for-daily-use key ring and delivered it to me at the dealership.

It wasn't an ordinary car-buying experience, as it only took an hour to find what I wanted but then nearly three more to get everything else hammered out.  In any case, I have a very *grunting like Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor" manly pickup, and exceeded my newfound acquaintence quota for the week with Al, Carl, Russ, and Jim!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Week #5- A Busy One

It's been a crazy week!  We flew into Elmira, NY on Thursday night, kindly met there by my friend, former lead, and future supervisor George.  He guided us to the Holiday Inn Express in Horseheads.  On Friday I was given a thorough tour of the plant by a nice guy named Greg.  It's a relatively young facility at 9 years.  My interview by a three-person panel was actually a lot of fun and went really well- oddly enough, there were no Yankees in the room.

Jackie, the production manager was from Georgia- never lost his accent.  He reminded me of that tall guy in the wide-brimmed hat in the movie The Secret Window- "You stole my Sto-ry."  George (a fellow Texan) was a member of the panel, and the third person was Skip, the engineering manager- also originally from Texas.  He not only knew about the tiny town of 112 that I grew up in, but owns land not far from it.  It's a small world!

After my big day at the plant, George and his wife Janet, took us out to dinner at Horigan's Tavern- a neat little Irish pub with unbelievably good food.  Their Shepherd's Pie was amazing.  I'm looking forward to Wednesday nights here- corned beef and cabbage is the special. That evening when we got back to the hotel, I began scouting for apartments via Craigslist.  The logo for USARealty kept popping up beneath some interesting postings.

The people here are really nice.  On Saturday morning we were scouting out the area in our rental car and passed a small office with signage matching the USARealty logo that I'd seen the night before.  We stopped there and got out to ask about apartments for rent in the area.  That's where we met Penny- the only person at the office.  She was on her way out the door to meet with someone else, but kindly stayed long enough to print up a list of potential properties- slim pickin's for a couple with a dog, but there were a few.  She could tell by our accents that we didn't know our way around the area, and loaned us her Tom-Tom GPS!  "Oh, just bring it back when you're done and put it through the mail slot if I'm not here."  If not for that gadget, I don't think we would have seen half of the places we managed to swing by today.  I can't thank her enough.

Person #5 was Jan, the Realtor that we meet at 1:00 this afternoon.  She was very helpful and took us on a tour of several properties for sale, one of which we might just make an offer on.  She will be doing it again in Elmira before we fly home tomorrow.

So, for week #5 I'm claiming Greg, Jackie, Jan, Penny, and Skip.  I should probably remember the names of at least 5 more people I met on this trip, but that's never been my strong point.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Snub #1

On Monday evening we were flying home from Virginia and had a layover in Charlotte.  In North Carolina we found a table conveniently located near an outlet and I pulled out the laptop to write a little and get 'er charged up so I could keep working during the flight back to Little Rock. 

I wasn't eagerly searching for friends at that point, but a chubby middle-aged guy with a pink face the texture of a sea sponge sat down about 8 feet away at the only other table in that corner.  He had on a bright orange Longhorns hoodie, so my first impression of him wasn't a negative one, but then he began to talk.  "They got free internet here?" he called to me from his seat.

"I don't think so," I answered, keeping my eyes glued to the screen as I continued to type.

But he kept on going, telling me about his second home, how he's from Michigan and drove all the way to Austin and on to McAllen on a road trip with his family. He talked about his trip to Padre Island, and the Outer Banks.  The school he went to, his first wife- I kept my eyes on the computer screen.

It became clear that he couldn't take a hint if I put it in a pill, so I just continued trying to work, grunting periodically as he continuously de-railed my train of thought. 

We finally started packing up and picking up the bundles of carry-ons that budget travelers are forced to lug around these days, and were about to head to the terminal to board, when I thought I might as well get his name.  After all, he told me everything else about himself and I didn't even have to ask.  I threw the strap of my red duffel over my shoulder and stopped in front of his table with an extended hand and a "nice to meet you," offering him my name.  He gave my hand a squeeze and said, "Cool.  Good luck."  Without so much as looking up.

It was slightly awkward, and I'm still not sure if he had finally caught onto the fact that I wasn't interested in listening to him and was giving me a taste of my own medicine, just didn't think about it, or maybe he's one of America's most wanted and made up everything else he told me.  In any case, it gave me something to write about!