Monday, March 30, 2009

I Dragged a Moving Truck Ramp Along Canal Road Today

Even after moving all of our things into the new house the day before and battling the chaos that can be IKEA on a Sunday morning (even before the church crowd), I drove to BFE Virginia that Sunday afternoon to pickup a co-worker’s carpooling friend’s washer, dryer, and microwave. Thanks to the carpooler’s home being foreclosed it was mine for the taking.

I felt bad taking it out of his house because I benefited from his loss, but such is the cycle of home ownership I suppose. And I wasn’t about to turn down a chance to replace the original 20-year-old washer and dryer that came with our purchase.

Thanks to my GPS, I made my way out 66 and to another non-descript development of Virginia homes an hour from DC. With the appliance hand truck, We wheeled the appliances up the truck’s ramp and strapped them down for the ride back to MoCo. We pushed the ramp back into its holder on the truck and I was on my way.

I'll use the moving truck ramp to make my own sparks. Thank you very much.

An accident on the Beltway near 270 caused a major backup on the inner loop back to the 66 East exit so my GPS routed me to avoid the incident. Nice. I was told to take the Dulles Toll Road which, by the nature of its title, meant it had a toll and required money. Well, foolish me, I was traveling without a penny to my name. I pulled off in a Dulles Airport Marriott parking lot and told the GPS to avoid toll roads.

It got me back on the road toward Route 7 and Tyson’s Corner. Still worrisome of beltway traffic, it suggested I forgo joining the beltway there and continue on more local 2x2-lane roads. Well, those 2x2-lane roads turned into 1x1-lane roads. I had not only told the GPS to avoid toll roads, but I must have told it to avoid highways!

Before I knew it I had driven to where I had no choice, but to turn onto the Chain Bridge!

If you click on the image above from Wikipedia, you'll see a Penske truck on the Chain Bridge! Maybe it's me before the ramp fell out.

Yep, the same Chain Bridge leading to Canal Road. I’m very familiar with the road…when I’m in my Altima and not a truck. I’m also pretty sure trucks aren’t allowed on the road. I was exhausted and had trouble thinking straight so I just ignored common sense and let the GPS get me home.

I didn’t realize it was avoiding highways until it had me turn right toward the District. Even I knew Maryland was the other way, but I couldn’t turn left. I followed directions to turn the truck around on Arizona Avenue. Not exactly a convenient area to U-turn. Somehow, the automatic transmission powered the truck up the steep incline.

Next, the GPS thought the best way to turn the vehicle around would be a large U-turn using three right turns along Carolina Avenue, Galena Place, and Dorsett Place. I didn’t know this locale so I went with it, never mind that I had to maneuver the hulking truck around parked cars, including splitting cars parked on both sides. By sheer luck or by the grace of being the son of Milford Mill High School’s fastest parallel parker, I squeezed by with an inch to spare.

Relieved to have done the impossible, I just wanted to see my home. I made a right onto Canal Road and made my way toward the Beltway. I was in the clear and done with this truck I had grown so accustomed to driving.

That was until two cars passed me with horns honking and passengers yelling and pointing behind my truck. I nodded my head and thought nothing of it, figuring it was just that I was driving a truck on a road that doesn’t allow trucks.

Then I heard a back-and-forth metallic squeaking noise from the truck’s rear. Uh oh. I thought the backdoor hook had given and the microwave was about to fall out.

Canal Road offers few opportunities to pull over and even fewer places large enough for my behemoth vehicle. So I drove a good 1/2 mile to a mile with the ever increasingly loud noise until I had a shoulder large enough to check what was going on.

I had been dragging the ramp along Canal Road! Most assuredly causing sparks too!

The ramp came free of its holding latch somewhere along the bumpy areas of Canal Road, or maybe the Arizona Avenue neighborhood I used for my U-turn. Egg was over my face and I wanted out. I still feel nauseous when I think of the ramp falling off the truck in the middle of Canal Road.

Soooo, you're saying the ramp needs to be all the way inside the truck when moving?

I quickly put the ramp back in the truck, ensuring the latch was on the outside edge and not just latched to the teeth underneath. This wasn’t going to happen again on my watch. With no police cruisers in sight, I made it back on the road and onto the beltway.

I delivered the appliances home safe and sound, albeit shaken up at what could have been. A reminder why this is the last move I make without real movers.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

IKEA Sunday Morning Shopping – Pain By Choice

A week ago I made it to the College Park IKEA 15 minutes before opening only to see two lines of about 1,000 people at the front door. Uh oh. It looked like we weren’t the only ones thinking of getting first dibs on floor-level pallets. Figuring we were ahead of the game, we parked in the garage where no line existed at the entrance. We were the smartest folks in town.

That is, until an employee told us the long lines were for a free breakfast and a $35 pot on sale for $10. It’s ridiculous to stand in line for a good hour for a free breakfast that normally runs you all of one—freakin-dollar! I wouldn’t wait in line for a free IKEA lunch of 2 hot dogs and drink that costs $2.50, so to save a dollar on breakfast is hardly worth the Sunday morning hassle.

Now about this pot. I was expecting it to be some copper-plated large soup pot, figuring that’s the only thing worth waiting in line for to save $25. Being that its original cost was $35 at IKEA, I should have known better.
Don't get in the way of IKEA shoppers and this pot on a Sunday Morning

Turns out the pot was only 11 quarts and stainless steel, and definitely not non-stick (yeah double-negatives!). Proof positive that when you make something appear to be a great sale that the lemmings will surely follow.

The employee who told us what the lines were for also suggested we lineup at the return door. We were third in line there, but it didn’t really matter because most people were, in fact, returning things. At 10 AM the doors busted open and we sprinted to Aisle 3, Bin 7 for our MALM dressers and plunked two boxes on our cart.

The cordoned line that snaked through the entire store for the pot ended at the warehouse aisle we were running to so many folks yelled at us not to cut the line. Of course we didn’t, but we saw plenty of people who tried to circumvent the one-hour (!) wait for the pots by cutting in line.

They were promptly yelled at and marked as line cutters (sounds like an elementary school class), and denied pots when they got to the end. Finally an IKEA employee made it to the area and helped ward off other ill-gotten folks.

Checkout this IKEA in Shanghai...20 person lines at 20 registers.

After grabbing our dressers, we managed to get everything, but the 6-drawer dresser that was out of stock. We pulled up to the register and rang ourselves a nice total of $1,992. That’s impressive for IKEA furniture. Instead of hauling things in our big’ol moving truck, we paid $79 for them to be delivered later that day.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Home Sweet, MoCo Home

A week ago I called an apartment in Ellicott City my home. Today, my home is an actual house, located gloriously within one mile of the Shady Grove Metro station. I've managed to move, unpack, and put together IKEA furniture, but it was one hellacious experience my body and mind will never go through ever again.

After a much-ballyhooed pre-packing for the move, I picked up the 22-foot Penske truck and nervously drove it to the apartment. I had never driven anything longer than a 16-foot U-Haul truck, so now I was driving a real man’s truck!

After a great experience with Penske service and the truck’s solid condition, I will never use U-Haul again. Penske offered unlimited mileage and an appliance dolly (only $10 for 3 days). U-Haul charges by the mile and Ryder didn’t offer dollies. Did I say dolly? I meant to say the tougher sounding, “hand truck.” Grrrr.

It was nice having an automatic transmission instead of the 10-gear manual shifting one that real tractor-trailer drivers endure.

This was as close to driving a real big rig as I’ll ever get. I sat high enough that I saw the top of every SUV. It took three tall steps just to get in the cabin. I was disappointed to not have a cord to honk the horn, instead pressing the steering wheel. No CB radio talker was available either.

I pulled up around 8 and the loading commenced. Around 8:20 two of our friends swung into action and hauled ass hauling our stuff. By 9:30 the truck was stuffed. The truck that I thought was going to be too big was just right.  The drive was uneventful as I became quite comfortable in my mini-big rig.

The move went much smoother than it did for these Disney characters.

The unloading started around 11 and was 3/4 done when MoCoLotion arrived to help with the last 1/4 and just as importantly, deliver some bountiful food. We met a few of our neighbors and managed not to violate any homeowner’s association policies in our first few hours on the property. So far so good.

To serve our creature comfort needs, the Comcast installer managed to actually arrive within the 2 PM to 5 PM window. I asked about installing cable in other rooms and was told it would need another appointment…of course. I’ll just split it myself...hehe. Looks like Comcast of Frederick-Montgomery-PG County is no better than the one we had in Howard County.

By some grace of God, our cable TV and Internet are still working a week later.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today I Became a Land Baron

I settled on the house today and am in full packing mode. I’ll begrudgingly be away from my computer for an entire 48 hours until we are reconnected with the internet. Fortunately we’ll still have cable during this all-important March Madness time of year. Unfortunately we had no choice but to re-up with awful Comcast because FIOS hasn't made it to our development yet.

Parting of growing old is saying goodbye to old videogame consoles including the NES Advantage, Power Pad, and World Class Track Meet.

In an effort to not be a pack rat, I threw away the last items that will never serve any purpose: my Sega Genesis and Nintendo consoles. I had visions of making the next generation learn just how good they have things in the future of videogames, but it just wasn't worth it. Well, that, and they're fetching few dollars on eBay. With that we are boxed and ready to make the Saturday move. The weather looks spectacular and because I’m still less than 30 years old, it’ll also be the last one in which I do the heavy lifting.

My left-handed signature is pretty messy as is, but today’s settlement crushed any notion I had of being a repeatable calligrapher. After 40 or so signatures and another 20 initialings, give or take 15, my signature was a total disaster, but legally it was good enough to get me the keys. Just to make things more difficult I had to sign my middle initial as well, something I’ve never done before. I suppose now would be an opportune time to thank my 3rd grade teacher for lessons in script handwriting, but script writing discriminates lefties.

I claim this townhouse on 0.03 acres for me!

I am moving from the land of apartments to the land of home ownership. I will transform into Mr. Handyman thanks to a Do-It-Yourself handyman book for me. I'm proud to have done my part to help the country's economy. Now I just have to open that Home Depot credit card and buy myself a ladder.

Celtic Woman - Isle of Hope Tour on St. Patrick's Day

A few months ago I made a donation to Maryland Public Television and received two tickets to the Celtic Woman performance at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theater. It’s only fitting that we went on the night of St. Patrick’s Day. It was a nice and easy concert that was also tax deductible!

The name stays the same, the players are interchangeable, and the quality never waivers.

The show was a nice respite from the logistics of moving to our house, arranging service providers, and watching my bank account lose a few decimal places thanks to the settlement check. It was my first time at the Frances-Merc/Hippodrome theater and thought it was a decent venue. The lobby carpet was ugly and the restroom signage pointed us to a wall instead of telling us to turn right. The lobby layout served the area well enough with plenty of window viewing and $4 bottled water. My unknowledgeable ear thought the acoustics were fine.

The dresses were nice if you also like the styling of the prom dress clearance rack at Kohls. Well, maybe they weren't that bad and I just wanted to use that weak zingger.

When I took my seat inside the supposedly recently renovated theater, I immediately wished I for shorter femurs. Legroom was non-existent in our balcony seats. Orchestra rows didn’t look much better. Perhaps the theater’s renovation kept row spacing equivalent to a time when people weren’t over six feet. Or maybe they wanted to maximize revenue by jamming in the rows. My back was sore this morning from contorting my torso and angling my legs.

The fiddler was the star.

The audience was quick to clap before the show even started. They clapped after the 1) Maryland Public Television exec thanked us for donating; 2) stage announcer said the show would be starting in a minute; 3) lights went black; 4) lights came up; and 5) first singer began singing. I guess I’m just not a super Celtic Woman fan, but it seemed overkill when nothing had been done to warrant the clapping. Call me a selective clapper.

As much training as I have on Guitar Hero, I won’t be ready for the show’s drummer position…ever.

The stage looked tiny and not just because we were far away. Nevertheless, they used all available space and it worked just fine. The stage had room for two massive drumsets, an elevated standing area, piano, and two percussionists. At such a sing-heavy show, there was little need for a great expanse to move around. This wasn’t exactly a bubblegum pop Britney Spears spastic dancing spectacular.

When the singers spoke to the audience it was a bit phony, but they get an A for effort.

Despite sitting off to the right in row R, we had great sightlines. I couldn’t squint hard enough to see the singers’ lips move, but it was easy to see all performers. I was happy to have a clear view of the drummer and the 20+ piece drumset. He provided much needed entertainment during the songs I didn’t care for.

Acoustics sounded fine to my untrained ear

Of course the concert’s success rests on the voices and they didn’t disappoint. All of them sounded great. All of them were on key and pitch, and in harmony and melody, though I’m not sure what those terms really mean, I used to hear them on American Idol.

I recognized half of their setlist and was pleasantly surprised by the arrangement of some of those I was unfamiliar. They belted out tunes for two hours with a 20-minute intermission. The time went quickly for me and that’s saying something.

Come to the Hippodrome where you’ll enjoy poor blood circulation to your lower extremities.

Technically speaking, the show only had one error when the pianist and lighting crew were one song early, but they recovered after a few seconds of delay. I’d imagine it was an eternity for all involved. I was impressed by the variety of lighting and was duly unimpressed with the Hippodrome’s weak spotlight director. The left spotlights were not as bright as the right and it showed when all four women were on stage. The spotlight’s opening and closing were done incrementally and were not smooth.

The first act’s dresses were simple and elegant in orange, red, blue, and green…the orange was one-shoulder no less! I thought they were okay except for the awful orange one thanks to my hate for such unsymmetrical clothing. Of course the fiddler was in her flowing white. For the second act’s dresses, even I quickly recognized their hideousness. The material looked like shades of fire retardant foil. Good to know they’ll be safe when the theater catches fire.

“Fire retardant foil makes for a great dress,” said the foil’s product manager who was going to throw away the scraps.

Though all singers sang very well, the fiddler stole the show, if only because the four singers were, by design, indistinguishable. The fiddler was great, playing many notes and injecting much needed enthusiasm to the mostly low-key, but expected, setlist by the singers. Her dancing, with its high steps and spins, was fun, and reached a crescendo during combined fiddler and drummer solos.

No lip syncing here.

I know it’s a concert that’s about the singing, but the choreography was unimpressive. The girls would turn to a side and wave their straight arms down like waves when they weren’t walking between stage front and stage back. Is that all you can do when they have to belt out the tunes? The background singers in black were an afterthought, forming couples at times or just standing in a line behind the girls, as well they should, but still a little more creativity would help.

The consensus top pick in everyone’s fantasy fiddler league draft.

Of course we had no trouble hearing the concert. Volume was constant, except it seemed their bigger songs, played often during Maryland Public Television donation airings, were pumped up, almost to the point of being excessive. Otherwise their voices were strong and clear. A full setlist is found here.

Violin + Drummer + Voice = Good song

The performers got a few standing ovations at the end, thereby diluting the value of a standing ovation. I ended up standing and ovating in order to actually see the singers start their encore before getting to sit back down when those in front returned to their seats.

So to recap, the Celtic Woman – Isle of Hope concert in Baltimore offered beautiful women, singing with beautiful voices, wearing nice 1st act dresses and ugly 2nd act dresses, while I lost the feeling in my legs from tiny row spacing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Double Dare You To Count Out Gary Williams

A few days ago I wrote a 2,200-word entry on what was wrong with the Maryland Men's basketball program just waiting to be published. I had a placeholder for the score when I thought they'd lose to NC State. Then I had to change the placeholder for the Wake Forest game. And now, thanks to Gary's most unlikely team yet to make the NCAA Tournament, landing a 10th seed no less, I won't have to publish that entry anytime soon.

So long MD March Madness t-shirt. Even I must admit it has too many holes and must be thrown away; it's what happens when you lighten your moving load.

I still believe Gary is a poor recruiter, often getting B-level talent in a conference that demands A-level players. His coaching ability running the flex offense is undeniable, it's just his recruiting that could use some help. Few coaches in the country could take a team with no player taller than 6'7" and get in the tournament, but at the same time few coaches would voluntarily put themselves in a position to coach a team with no size.

Gary Williams - specializing in overperforming underdogs.

Nevertheless, Gary got this squad in the tournament when everyone counted them out. Losing to UVA to end the season required the team to play better than it had the last two weeks to beat NC State and Wake Forest, and damnit the team played its best ball when it mattered most. The team not only did that, but it got a boost in its seeding with a competitive game versus Duke on Saturday.

You're not a MD fan if you don't get sappy watching this.

I still think Maryland should have had a stronger program after winning the title 7 years ago. The program should have gone from yearly tournament bubble team to regular top 4 tournament seed. Some bad luck with a highly-touted class and the loss of assistant coaches Jimmy Patsos and Dave Dickerson (the team's main recruiters) have hurt things in College Park.

It's all the more reason why Gary must spend the time being the team's recruiter and not leave it to his mix of assistant coaches. Just imagine how far he'd go with real talent? There's nothing wrong with running an ultra-clean program, and MD still needs it 20 years after being in the dumps, but it wouldn't hurt to talk to some AAU coaches instead of getting leftovers. PG County is the country's hoops hotbed, but MD can't land any of them?

Long live the greatest free t-shirt ever given out at Cole Field House!

But let's celebrate the accomplishment that is this year's team. Gary did a ton with a little; probably his best coaching job to date. I must admit that it is fun to see my team back in the big dance. Filling out my bracket with the chance to put them through to the Final Four brings a big smile. Sure they'll probably lose to Memphis in the 2nd round, but I've never believed in any Memphis squad because they play in a talentless league and well, why not.

Just when it seems safe to count out a Gary Williams-coached squad, that's when the team magically delivers. I'm sure glad he came through this season.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Great Maryland Men's Basketball Prank

Nothing like pranking your friend into thinking he made a $500,000-blindfolded halfcourt shot during halftime at the MD/Wake Forest game.

Of course, even if this prank is a prank on me and every other viewer, it's still funny.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Enjoy Your Hearing Loss Fellow Metro Rider!

Thanks to my new job, I'm a regular on the red line from Wheaton to the gullet of transfer points around Metro Center. It seems in the time since I last rode regularly, many Metro experiences still hold true:
Perhaps it's due to the advent of more smartphones and lower-priced MP3 players, but there's an abundance of loud headphones. I'm not only talking about hearing random bass sounds that wouldn't prevent you from taking a nap, I'm talking about the many riders whose music I've heard quite clearly despite sitting 4 rows away.

Kids from "The Last Dragon" rocked their boombox on their stoop, but not the subway because that's no place to invade personal listening space. Why don't Metro riders follow?

What are they thinking playing their music at such a high volume? Are fellow riders going to think they're cool or give them a thumbs up saying they appreciate their taste in music? Oh, I know, maybe they think there's a record producer looking for new talent and need someone in touch with the young hip-hop scene. The executive will overhear their blaring tunes and sign them on the spot!

There are starving musicians in the subway for a we don't have to hear music on the train.

Seriously, they must know it's incredulously loud so what gives? Just because Metro doesn't allow your boombox means you have to turn up the next best thing? The only thing louder on Metro in the last 3 weeks was this one guy who snored up a storm, but at least that's a natural condition whose noise isn't purposely rude.

Will one of the nation's greatest musicians be noticed in a D.C. Metro stop during rush hour? Violinist Joshua Bell experimented for Gene Weingarten's Sunday Magazine story in The Washington Post.

I take solace knowing that for as annoying as their awful music is to me, they're just damaging their eardrums more and more. Then again, while I'm happy to hear them suffer, it just means they'll have to turn their music up even more.