Category Archives: In Person

Used Teslas

My wife and I had to make a couple of trips across the valley last week along Capitol Expressway, in the midst of which there is what is called the Capitol Auto Mall, a stretch of new car dealerships lumped together between Almaden Expressway and Highway 87.  Its primary distinguishing feature is a series of truly huge American flags lining that stretch, all of which were at half mast due to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II… because… America?

I don’t know.

I also do not know what the expressway is named “Capitol,” it not going anywhere in the vicinity of anything one might consider the capitol of anything, but that is another rabbit hole to go down at a later date.

Anyway, my wife was driving so I was gawking out the window as I do and as we went past the various dealerships I noticed that there were, in the used car sections of several of the dealerships, a disproportionately large number of used Teslas lined up for sale.  Like way more than any other vehicle by a wide margin.  The Chevrolet dealership alone had 19 Teslas lined up along the front of their lot, while another had an easy dozen.  There were so many that I tried to take a couple of pictures with my phone as we drove past. (Out the window of a moving vehicle yielded the poor results you might expect.)

Some Teslas

Now, if Silicon Valley is going to claim to be the capitol of anything, Tesla ownership would certainly be on the list of possible options.  The things are everywhere.  Seeing a Telsa in the Santa Clara Valley today is like seeing a VW Bug most places in the 70s.  If you come to a stop at a major intersection during daylight hours and don’t see at least one… and likely more… it is a notable occurrence.

And used cars are, of course, very much a thing.  They are large, mobile, durable goods that hold value.  Buying a used car is an every day occurrence for millions.

But used Teslas, that made me stop and think.

A Tesla is a car, sure, so of course there will be used Teslas.  And maybe it is because I have stuck with my old Camry for 19 years, a vehicle that came with a cassette deck and is the model of simplicity when compared to current new cars, that got me thinking about what one should consider when buying a used Tesla, or any other electric vehicle.

Batteries make me wonder about if buying one is a good idea.  I was already down on the idea of used hybrids due to battery decay over time.

A quick look on Google showed me Tesla itself reassuring people that a used Tesla is a perfectly cromulent vehicular choice, claiming that the batteries in them are good for 300,000 to 500,000 miles.  But that is also the end of useful life, and the inevitable performance degradation is unlikely to occur in a single giant leap that many miles down the road.  It happens from day one and likely in a smooth but every increasing slope, meaning that there is some point well before those end of life numbers where the batteries are going to be an issue.

Also a Tesla, having been in a couple… they are almost like a iPhone.  Unlike my own car, where the radio station pre-sets and the stains on the upholstery are about all the mark I would leave on it, a Tesla is a device, with lots of data about the user stored away.

I am sure there is a way to wipe a Tesla, to restart it as a fresh device.   But as with an iPhone, you immediately have to get into contract with Tesla, at least setting up an account, otherwise you won’t get updates and offers to buy new features and the ability to extend your driving range because Tesla limits your battery life with software unlocks that they would like to sell you as upgrades.

I am not down on Teslas in particular.  We’re getting past the point where you know who a Tesla owner is the way you know who a vegan is because they won’t shut up about it.  It isn’t like I don’t enjoy nattering on about expensive electronic gadgets.  But the electric car thing is still not a viable option for me.  I already have to deal with my aunt who lives 70 miles away and has a Nissan Leaf.  Every visit is a trial about having to recharge at our end and we only have standard outlets which charge an electric vehicle very slowly.  Too slowly.

Slow, but I can show you on my electric bill the day my aunt visited and charged here.

Can you spot the day?

So we have to meet up at some place locally that has a free charging station and I drive her back to our place or out to lunch or whatever we’re up to.  Her work has a charging station so she rarely charges at home, her car getting topped up during the day.  But on a weekend trip it is suddenly an issue.

Anyway, I have digressed from my main point, which is mostly, “Whoa, that was a whole lotta Teslas on the used car lot!”

The question here is really “why so many Teslas?”

The answer could be simply that these dealerships, several of which have the same owner, have decided to go all in on electric and have been scooping up Teslas at auction to stock their inventory.  Maybe they are trying to make used electric vehicles their brand.

But that still leaves the supply question, why are so many Teslas available?  Cars in general are still in somewhat short supply, and Teslas especially have a reputation of buyers needing to get on a waiting list to get one.

Does the electric car thing not fit in with user needs as well as people thought?    Is there something specific about Telsas that people are trading them in for something else?

While I know Teslas are very popular around here, so supply in the used market is likely to have more units available, I also wonder if the used bookstore analogy is in play as well.  If you go into a used bookstore and there are a lot of copies of a particular title… say Tek War… and the store even has it on a list of titles they are not currently purchasing, that does tend to be less than a stellar endorsement.

I don’t really know the answer, but it seemed an odd situation.

Addendum: Further thoughts.

The used cars at dealerships are part of their own ecosystem, being made up largely of trade-ins, lease returns, and the occasional other route like a repo that made its way back into the system.

When you trade your car in or do a lease return, if the car is in really good shape they may spiff it up and put it back on the lot.  If it needs some work they bring it to the dealership auction and somebody else will buy it, fix it up, and either put it their lot or auction it again for more.  If specific cars are in demand in different areas sometime dealers will buy them at auction and ship them across country.

Used cars are very profitable for dealerships since they generally pay for them in what is essentially store credit towards something else you’re going to buy.

Then there is the parallel private used car sales channel, which is largely handled via Craig’s List these days, but use to be a staple of newspapers until the web became big.

So every one of those Teslas was very likely a trade-in or a lease return at which point the owner bought something else.

But it also makes me wonder about the complexities of private Tesla sales.  To use my analogy from above, I might trade my iPhone in at the Apple store, but I am not sure I would sell it to a private party even if I wiped it myself, not being wise enough to know what data might still persist.

I speak as somebody who has retrieved a lot of data off of supposedly wiped hard drives.

The One with the Self-Incriminating Defendant

My wife successfully avoided being called during her week of jury service a few weeks back, which got me thinking about jury duty again.  I wrote a post previously about getting out of jury duty myself, an epic tale involving, among other things, Nazis, so figured I might as well return to that well.

As I noted in that post I had an extremely bad string of luck when it came to jury duty, with about a 20 year run of getting called in the minimum possible interval, which is once per year in Santa Clara County.  Admittedly I ended up not having to down to the court house at least half the time, but you’re still on the hook for a week and the system keeps you on the hook until the very last minute, usually 1pm on Friday afternoon of your week of service.

This tale involves one of the times I did have to go down town… because otherwise the story we be short and not very interesting… which happened a few years back.

I have been notified and drew a low number and ended up having to go down to the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice.  That isn’t too far away from Downtown Superior Court, where my other tale took place, and has the advantage of having a spacious parking garage across the street where you’re parking is validated for jury service.

The thing about the Hall of Justice, which I knew from past experience, is that is where criminal cases are handled.  No mesothelioma lawsuits to be found there.

No Justice League here either

This time around the jury pool I was in got called to a modest sized courtroom where the judge was already seated and everything was in place, the assistant DA in her chair at one table before the judge, the public defender and her client at another.

I must admit, this judge was one of the best ones I’ve every dealt with.  He was a retired judge called back to service to help get through the backlog on the calendar, and he had not time for useless formalities.  He was always seated and ready to go when we were brought into the courtroom, so there was none of the “all rise” and then waiting around while he got himself situated and made idle chat with the clerk and what not.  He was all business in a very good way.  Time was not wasted.

The judge explained a bit of the case to us, which involved a DUI.  I figured I was safe from having to serve.  I have been called for drunk driving cases before and once I bring up the fact that my parents car was hit by a drunk drive when I was a kid… my dad’s front teeth are a bridge to replace the ones knocked out at that time… I am usually high on the list to be excused.  Once I was the second person to be excused, coming after the guy who said drunk driving should earn violators the death penalty.

So I was keep to get in the jury box to get that out in the open so I could be on my way.  No use wasting everybody’s time.  So we filled out our questionnaires for the case, after which we were dismissed for the day, to return at 9am the next morning to begin jury selection.

The next morning we were back, ushered into the courtroom not too long after our 9am time… I’ve been told to show up at 9am and have sat around in the just room until 10:30am more than once… and the judge was once again seated and ready to go and soon there were a dozen people in the jury box.

I was not among them.  But it seemed like I could be up there soon.  The judge was not messing around.  He was asking some preliminary questions of his own and tossing people of his own accord before either lawyer had a crack at them.  English comprehension seemed to be his big thing, and the only slow up along the way was a young woman who lived in San Francisco, where she went to school, but whose driver’s license still had her parent’s address, so there was a question about whether or not she was liable to serve.

She was set aside for a moment as we arrived at a baseline set of jurors the lawyers could question.  They went through some prepared questions they each had prepared based on the questionnaires, and a juror here and there was tossed, but I still had not been called up.  Maybe I would just get a pass on the whole thing.

We broke for lunch, with the usual “return at 1:30pm” announcement.

On our return the judge was once again waiting for us.  He first excused the young woman who live in SF, having decided that she was not liable to serve.  Then the search went out for a missing juror, somebody who was in the box before lunch, who had failed to return.

The young man, another college student, showed up a while later and was admonished by the judge about timeliness.  Eventually though, he was tossed by one of the lawyers, and he was the last person they had not questioned already, which meant whoever got called next had an extremely high likelihood of being on the jury.

And that was when my name was called.

Keen to get through, the judge asked if I felt I could be fair and impartial and I said yes.  The two lawyers had no questions for me and two minutes after I sat down in the box the jury was empaneled.

I probably wasn’t a bad choice.  The public defender had let slide a former EMT who had worked on highway 80 and had witnessed the results of drunk drivers as well as a guy who said the police were always right, so somebody whose parents had been hit by a drunk driver probably seemed a reasonable choice.

The judge, still not wasting any time, wanted the DA’s office to commence with their case.  He gave us some instructions up front, including a very deliberate statement about the fact that the defendant need not take the stand, or even mount a defense, and that we should not count that against them if the state did not make its case against them.

And the state’s case was not very substantial.

It consisted of the officer who was involved with the incident.  A three year member of the force, he recounted his story, which involved pulling the defendant over, the car being full of beer cans, the defendant slurring his speech and refusing to blow into the breathalyzer, and generally being passively uncooperative with the whole process.

The public defender tried to pin racism on him, pointing out that he was white and of medium height, while the defendant was large, muscular, and Hispanic, but it didn’t really hit home.

And there wasn’t anything particularly objectionable about the officer’s story.  It could have gone down that way.  But there was nothing to corroborate it.  It did not, in my opinion, meet the burden of proof required by itself.  I was tipping to the “not guilty” side of the fence at that point.  A follow on witness was a sergeant who arrived after the testimony given and saw to the transport and booking of the defendant.  That filled out the timeline, but didn’t add much.

My position was not moved by the expert witness from the crime lab whose testimony was some speculation about how the defendant’s behavior might line up with a specific blood alcohol level, a position that seemed to me to be an attempt to run the sausage factory backwards in order to make pigs.

The public defender poked a few obvious holes in his testimony and let it go.  It was after 4pm at that point and that was the state’s case complete.  The judge let us go with the usual “be back at 9am” instruction.

At that point I was mostly worried that we were going to have to come back and fight over a verdict in the jury room because I was going to be on the “not guilty” side of things.  I didn’t think the state was lying, but the evidence felt very light.  And we had been told that the defendant need not testify or even mount a defense, which seemed like a winning position.  I was just hoping that I wouldn’t be the one versus eleven.

We showed up the next morning and I was expecting to get jury instructions and then head to the jury room.

But that was not to be.  No, it turned out a defense was to be mounted.  The defendant felt he needed to get up and speak about what happened on the stand.

Fine, sure, whatever.  Maybe he wanted to clear up some details or refute what the office had said.  It was his right.  Maybe he was worried some of us wouldn’t buy the whole thing about not needing to take the stand.  I don’t know.  But he got up there.

And he sank himself.

He did so on multiple levels too.

To start with, he told us a tale of the events of that day that were wholly unbelievable, with a nonsensical timeline that had him in and out of custody at various points on his journey.

However, he felt he needed to ground that tale in some facts, so he went ahead and gave the officer’s story about all the corroboration you could ask for.  We went from an officer spinning a tale that may or may not have be how things went down to the officer and the defendant agreeing on a series of facts that established guilt.

Finally, not content to insult the jury with nonsense while proving he’d done what he was accused of, he went on the look for mercy by telling us this would be his third DUI conviction and that he was going to be in real trouble because he had been out on bail on a domestic abuse charge when he was arrested for this.

No judge in the land would have let such prejudicial information about a defendant be presented to a jury by the prosecutor.  But if the defendant opens the door, well, we’re all welcome to see what is inside I guess.

The public defender looked pained at all of this, despite an attempt to keep a stoic look on her face throughout.  The prosecutor got up, looked at the jury for a moment, then asked a couple of questions for clarification, but otherwise tried to avoid distracting from the train wreck the defendant had just spent 35 minutes creating.

It was far enough along in the day that we broke for lunch early, but when we got back it seemed like we would be going straight to the jury room for a guilty verdict.

But nothing is ever that simple.

First we had to listen to the jury instructions.  We the jury had to sit there and listen the judge read out the prepared and agreed upon instructions for what seemed like hours, but which was probably less than 15 minutes… but it didn’t matter either way, because even trying to force myself to pay attention was failing as my brain search desperately for something, anything more interesting in the courtroom.  I don’t know how they manage it, but jury instructions are somehow unbearable to the average human.

Then we get walked over to the jury room, where we must go through the rituals.  First, we elect a foreperson.  I am never the foreperson.  I am the foreperson’s enforcer.  That is my role, and it comes into play immediately as the first thing that happens in every jury I’ve been on is that somebody says we don’t really have enough information and we need to ask some more questions.

Because nobody listens to the jury instructions.  I get to jump in here and point that we don’t get any more information about the case, that we have to make our decision solely based on what was presented to us.  We can ask the judge to clarify our instructions, but nobody is going to bring us more evidence.

That done, the foreperson tries to hold a vote, but that is stalled because we must listen to the people who must tell their story.  My experience shows that 1-3 people on the jury will need to solemnize the moment or something by telling a story about how this particular case somehow intersects with their life and personal experiences.

The best course here is to let them have their say, at least pretend to listen, and try not to ask what they just said had anything to do with what was going on.  Some people just need to be heard about something, anything (apparently), in that moment.  Their words heard, they will then reliably vote with the majority regardless of what they said.

We finally have a vote, which is just a “raise your hand if you think the defendant is guilty” level of effort.  Half of us raise our hands, followed by four more as they do the math.  That leaves two out.

One is former EMT who, it turns out, also needs to tell a story.  We listen.  Then he says he’ll vote guilty.

The other is the juror who sat next to me in the box.  He isn’t sure.  But I also know he is an engineer, so I get out the notepad and go through how the stories of the officers line up with the defendant’s story on critical points that confirm the prosecution’s case.  And he is with me, he sees it, he’s with me, but still not 100%.

And then another juror, who has been following my recounting of the trial pipes in with, “And did you see his mug shot?  He was wasted!”

It is true.  They showed the mugshot they took of him at booking.  He was sweaty and glassy eyed and had a huge, shit eating grin on his face, like he knew the punchline to the joke somebody else was telling.  Everybody in the room makes assenting noises, he was drunk in that picture.

That sold it.  The whole room voted guilty on the next vote.  We filled in the form, gave it to the bailiff, were led back into the courtroom, and confirmed that this was our verdict.  It was 3:30pm and we were all done for the day.

That is the way it goes.  If the defendant had avoided testifying, I might have gone full on 12 Angry Men… or maybe Fonzie on the jury, knowing which hand is required to us the throttle on motorcycles built in the UK.  I’d like to think I would have in any case.  But then the defendant got up there and changed my mind.

Memories of a Great America

On this day of patriotic excess here in the United States, I am writing about a little sliver of it.  It is not about the country itself, or some dyspeptic fantasy about making it great again.  Perish the thought.

No, this is about a theme park.

Back in 1976, around my birthday, a new theme park opened in what was just starting to be called Silicon Valley, Marriott’s Great America.

A Great America

Here, 46 years down the road, I have no idea what Marriott thought they were doing going into the theme park business, or why they wanted to put a theme park in Santa Clara County… San Jose wasn’t even in the top 30 cities in the US by population at that point… but it was a different time.

As for the name… it was 1976, the year of the bicentennial, and I was being mildly ironic when I wrote “patriotic excess” up in the opening of this post.  Having lived through the country’s 200th birthday, and the lead up to it, because 1975 was the dress rehearsal for the whole thing, I think I can confidently declare that I saw more things festooned in red, white, and blue than you can imagine if you were not there.

So the fact that this new theme part was to be named Great America was completely on brand for the times.  In the gush of patriotism everywhere… we had that whole Vietnam War thing to forget about… one could hardly call out the name of the park as going too far.

Oddly, the short hand for the park in my peer group was immediately “Marriott’s” for whatever reason.  Probably just easier to say, but awkward once Marriott decided they didn’t want to be in the theme part business and sold it to somebody else.  I still occasionally refer to it as “Marriott’s” now and then, a sign of having been there at the beginning I guess.

And the whole thing was kind of a big deal here in the valley, which has since more than doubled in population, even in amidst the frenzy of the bicentennial.

It wasn’t as though we had never seen an amusement park.  We had Frontier Village and Santa’s Village and Marine World Africa USA… all of which were still around when Great America opened… along with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  But those were all of a different era, closer in kinship to Playland in San Francisco than more modern attractions.

It was, honestly, if not quite on par with Disneyland… because the mouse will bow to nobody… at least had the feel of Magic Mountain or Knott’s Berry Farm down in LA.  It was modern and paved and didn’t smell of years of neglect and had modern rides, including roller coasters.

And it wasn’t 400 miles down the highway in southern California, it was right here in the valley on a stretch of Bowers Avenue that they renamed Great America Parkway to commemorate the new park.  You could ride the bus there.

And all the rides were free.

Well, “free” isn’t the right word.  Access to all of the rides were included with admission to the park.  This is, of course, the normal way of things today.  But I am old enough to have gone to Disneyland when the E-ticket was still a thing, when you bought a coupon book with tickets that you had to hand in to go on specific rides.  I remember going on Mister Toad’s Wild Ride a second time because we didn’t have enough tickets in the book for anything better.

But at Great America you just had to get in the front gate and you could go on rides all day.

Or, if it was peak season, you could stand in line most of the day if you wanted to go on the better rides.  But there was no asking your parents to fork out for more tickets.  This was the wave sweeping the amusement park landscape at the time.  Today I can’t imagine a theme park doing the whole ticket scheme.  The Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which couldn’t be gated, went to a wrist band scheme for rides not too long after Great America showed up.  Even the annual carnival at the catholic school up the street from us offers an unlimited rides wrist band option, though they still do the tickets as well.

Great America represented the future of amusement parks, while the other attractions I mentioned all fell by the wayside.  Frontier Village is houses, Oracle is located where Marine World used to be, and I used to work at the office center that Borland built back in the 80s on the dead elf graveyard that was once Santa’s Village.  Anything with less pull than Great America and more overhead than The Mystery Spot fell by the wayside for the most part.

But for 11 year old me having a theme park close by was a boon, and all the more so because of my Boomer parents (divorced, because of course they were) who were always keen for some place to dump me off and be rid of me so they could do whatever they did.  I spent a lot of weekends and most of my summers with my grandparents.  I joke with my aunt, the youngest of my parents generation, that we get a lot of the same jokes and references because the same people raised us.

I think one of the greatest times of my pre-teen summers was a Thursday afternoon when a few of us got dropped off at Great America.  It was late August, back to school was approaching, and the early summer allure of the park had worn off… so the place wasn’t empty, but we didn’t wait more than a few minutes in line for any rides.

Of course, the park was not without its problems.  Not too many years into the life of the park, Marriott decided it really didn’t want to be in the amusement park business and tried to sell the whole thing to a real estate developer because the rising price of land has been a thing in the valley my entire life.  The city of Santa Clara, where the park was located, didn’t want that and tried to break up the deal and buy the park themselves and there was an ugly lawsuit where the city got the park, the companies got paid, and the tax payers got the bill.

The city owned it for a while and had some outside company run it, some Waystar RoyCo subsidiary I am sure, and the whole thing entered a somewhat desultory state of existence.  The mascots got traded out, with Hanna-Barbara replacing Looney Toons character, never a good sign, and the place got a reputation for a place full of roving gangs of bored teens getting into trouble.

Eventually the city unloaded the park on another company and the reputation of the park recovered a bit.

Not that it ever ceased to be a popular attraction.  I went to any number of end of year parties, company parties, birthday and anniversary parties, and what not at the park.  And, when our daughter was old enough to be up for that sort of thing she and my wife had season passes to the park and many afternoons were spent there.

The park used to be easy to find from any spot up the bowl of the valley, the giant three pronged ferris wheel, the Sky Whirl, drawing the eye from a back window of our house in Cupertino, which was on a slight rise at that end of the county.  And you could find it at night around the 4th of July because they did a fireworks show as the park was getting ready to close for the evening around the holiday.

Even today, living on the floor of the valley the street that crosses the end of our own points directly towards Santa Clara and Great America and you can, through the trees, still spot the distant fireworks from the park.

Which, of course, might be reason enough to bring up Great America, it being a patriotic themed amusement park, bound in memory with the bicentennial in my brain, and hosting fireworks annual.  A simple Independence Day memory in that alone.

But there is another reason the park comes to mind this holiday weekend.  The news came out this past week that the current owners of the park have sold the land to real estate developers, land not having gotten any cheaper since when Marriott tried to do the same thing back in the 80s.  The trajectory of land value in the valley has been constantly upward.  My dad bought our first house in the mid 60s and sold it at the end of the 70s for five times what he had paid for it.  Since then its value has appreciated to 20 times what he sold it for back then, or 100 times what he bought it for initially.

And that is the way of things.  Once Great America was kind of on the edge of things in the valley, in among some commercial office space built around the same time, all with patriotic street names, and across the street from the Santa Clara Convention Center, where GDC used to be held back in the day, past which was low rent areas, landfill, and then the bay.

Now, though, things have sprung up around it, and there is no such thing as a low rent area in the valley, save for relative to the prices in San Fransisco or New York.  Levi’s Stadium is around the corner and people have built up over the landfill where the garbage trucks used to dump stuff when I was a kid.

The park still has some time left.  They say it could be open for another decade, though that is likely due to how long it will take plans to get approved for whatever the new owners have in mind.  In the end though, the park will be gone, some new expensive condos or whatever will be in their place, and we’ll be left with a street name as the reminder that something else used to be here, like Santa’s Village Road up in Scotts Valley, or some themed side street that remind those who knew where Frontier Village once stood.

So it goes.

The One With the Lawyer from BASF

A few years back I had been called for jury duty.  Again.

There was about a 20 year run where I received a jury summons almost annually.  I was starting to wonder what the legal system did without me.

It wasn’t all that bad.  You’re on the hook, but about half the time you draw a high enough number in the pool that you don’t get called in, though they do make you wait until Friday after 5pm of your week to thank you for your service and tell you that you’re free for another 12 months.

But this time I had to show up, and it didn’t look good.  As usual, they make us show up at 9am and then left us sitting around in the jury room until one of the courts needs another panel of jurors.  This time they needed a lot of jurors for one trial as they scooped up everybody in the big waiting room at Downtown Superior Court over on 1st Street and marched us out of the building we had grouped up in and over to the old courthouse building next door, and into the biggest courtroom I have ever sat in.  This was a bigger than any set I ever saw on Law & Order and there were a couple hundred potential jurors settling into the seating.

The grim modernist building where jurors report, next to the old courthouse

Once we were all settled and waited a good bit, because being on a jury is mostly about waiting, the judge made an appearance.  We all rose as the bailiff shouted, then sat after the judge sat and bade us to be seated.

I was once on a jury with a judge who was always already seated at the bench when the jury was allowed to enter the court, thus dispensing with the whole “all rise” routine, but he was an exceptional and insightful retiree, brought back in to help with the backlog of cases, and didn’t have time for any of that sort of thing.

Most judges though, they like to make you stand up to remind you who is running the show, or so it seems.

Once we were all seated and quiet, the judge began telling us about the case.  It was a civil case, a mesothelioma lawsuit, and the judge said he expected it to last six months or more.

I had been on a civil case previously that ran two months, and it isn’t as bad as you think.  You are not there every day, Monday through Friday, for the whole time.  You almost never have to show up on Friday, which is when the court conducts other business.  (The local paper once reported that said “other business” seemed to take place on local golf courses, but that still means you don’t have to go downtown.)

Then there are days when the lawyers are arguing over motions and days when the court has other cases to which to attend, so I ended up sitting and listening to witnesses for two or three days a week tops.  It isn’t until the decision goes to the jury that you’re stuck in there every day until you can render a verdict.

That was manageable for a couple months, and all the more so since the office I worked in at the time was 10 minutes from the courthouse, but six months or more of being on call, that was going to be painful.  I wanted no part of that.

The judge explained a bit more about the case, the multitude of defendants being sued, the lawyers for whom were all shoved shoulder to shoulder at two tables put together to form an L on one side of the well before the judge, and how the plaintiff was not present, would likely never be present, and might not live long enough to see the end of these proceedings.

Then, as seems to be the norm in our jurisdiction, the clerk of the court started passing around a questionnaire that we needed to fill out, after which we would be free until 9am the next morning, when we would all be expected to be waiting in the jury room once more.

I don’t recall much from the questionnaire save for a few questions about whether or not you thought that being a three pack a day smoker might make you more susceptible to contracting the disease in question.  The plaintiff, in his job, apparently had to wear disposable protective gloves that were packaged in talc which contained asbestos, and so he was suing anybody and everybody related to his work, safety regulations, and the production and distribution of the gloves in question, and even a clod like me could foresee much conflicting expert testimony coming with the case.

I filled out the form, handed it in, and went on my way, showing up the next day to sit around in the jury waiting room once more.  As noted, jury duty involves a lot of waiting, so it helps to bring a book.

When we were finally paraded back to the big courtroom, we all found seats and settled in, hoping our number would not get called.

There was a bit of court business to be done before us.  Several of the defendants whom, through various agreements were indemnified against legal action in this case, were allowed to go, which meant their counsel could leave, making more room at the big “L” shaped table so that the remaining lawyers were no longer packed cheek by jowl.

Then it was time to call names.

Having been down this road before, the best outcome, if you do not want to serve, is to not get called at all.  They just need a dozen jurors and a few alternates… six in this case… so the odds of that in a room with a couple hundred people seemed pretty good.

But if you’re going to get called up to the jury box, you want to get called early.  The first dozen in the box face the most rigorous questioning and, as such, are also the most likely to be excused.

As the questioning goes on and replacements get called, the intensity of the question begins to slacken in my experience.  The lawyers get tired of their routine and start taking shortcuts or the judge starts hurrying them along.  Rather than asking you direct questions, they will start asking if you have anything to add or say based on the questions you were supposed to be listening to while sitting out in the gallery.

You can get “yadda yadda yadda’d” on to a panel if you’re not careful, unless you’ve put something egregious on your questionnaire.  I ended up on a jury that way once, the last one to be called into the box, when everybody was tired and, after a very perfunctory back and forth, both sides announced they were satisfied with all the jurors and were ready to proceed.  You do not want to be late to the party.

The clerk of the court stood up to call out the name of the first potential juror… and it was me.  I was now juror number one.

I stood up and made the long walk from the back row of the gallery where I had been slouching, into the well, and then up to the indicated seat in the jury box.  I was going to be the first person to face questions.  I was going to get the most scrutiny.

So I sat there as the clerk slowly called the remaining names to fill out all dozen and a half seats for jurors and alternates.

And then it was time for lunch.  We had been there since 9am as instructed and now it was 11:30am and we were all told to be back in the jury room by 1pm.  This is how it works on the jury.  You are there all day, but if you’re in the actual courtroom doing something other than waiting for more than a few hours it has been a very productive day.

We got called back from the jury room at about 1:30pm and were herded into place in the courtroom to sit and wait for a for a while. Again, waiting should be on the job description.  I chatted a bit with the person next to me, who was a nuclear physicist and worked on reactor design.  Neither he nor I want to hang out there for six months or more.

On the other side of him was juror number three who asked whether or not we’re getting paid by our companies while we’re on jury duty.  We both confirm that were getting paid, which he thought was a sweet deal.  He was not getting paid to be there and wouldn’t have minded getting paid to hang out downtown rather than at the auto parts store where he worked.

We had to explain that we would be working late and on weekends because our jobs don’t stop when we’re not there.  I’m not sure that sank in, but the judge showed up and we all had to stand, sit, and get to business.

As juror number one the first questions were for me and me came from the lawyer representing BASF which acquired the mine, and the liability that went with it, from which the allegedly asbestos laced talc was procured.  He asked about my profession and a few other things on my questionnaire before asking me if I knew anything about BASF.

I started off with the fact that they were German company that made cassette tapes when I was a younger.  He interrupted me to point out that while the parent company was indeed German, the portion of the company he represented was based in the US, paid taxes here, and employed American workers, a series of statements directed at the mass of potential jurors in an unnecessarily loud voice, which earned a bit of a smirk from the judge.  The lawyer wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to implicate BASF as a bunch of foreigners whom we shouldn’t worry about fleecing.

That interruption gave me a moment to ponder my next statement, which was probably a good thing, because I had been planning to move from cassette tapes straight to the production of Zyklon B for the Nazis during WWII, something that popped into my head when I learned that BASF was on the defendants list.  That seemed amusing enough when I was sitting at lunch pondering what to say during questioning.

Now, however, in a courtroom full of people, with the lawyer now waiting for me to go on, and the judge, who had been humorless and stern up until then, giving me a look that was somehow both angry and bored, I wondered if that statement might not be the best plan.  Going straight to “you helped gas the Jews” seemed like it might taint all potential jurors in the room… I mean the lawyer had to stand up and protest my naming BASF as a German company… and possibly incur the wrath of the judge.  I wasn’t sure I would get in trouble for that, but it felt like a possibility.   And I am not, generally speaking, a provocative or demonstrative public speaker.

So in that few seconds of pause, I change my plan.  My follow up after the interruption about how BASF was so very American in this situation, was to say, “Oh, and BASF was part of IG Farben during the war.”

To most people that might have been nothing more than an innocuous observation.  IG Farben isn’t exactly a household name, certainly not in the US.  It was a conglomeration of German companies, including BASF, who profited greatly from cooperation with the Nazi state and eagerly supplied it to help with the final solution.  There was a special trial at Nuremburg dedicated to defendants that were part of IG Farben, one of the so-called subsequent trials that took place after the remaining leaders of Nazi Germany were tried.

I wasn’t even sure if this was going to hit the mark, if this “We’re all Americans here” lawyer for BASF was going to know what I was referring to.  I have long known that odd bits of trivia that float around in my head are often not general knowledge.  I thought I might have to mention gas chambers or Auschwitz in order to make my point, that otherwise I might simply face another deflection about this not having anything to do with Germans or Germany.

But my statement did not elicit the same patriotic response as before.  Instead, it got me a quiet, poker face look put in place to cover for some thought process taking place.  Somebody apparently knew about their client’s history.

After a moment the BASF lawyer bent over and whispered back and forth with his partner, who then spoke with other lawyers at the big “L” shaped table.  Then there was a request to speak to the judge, a short discussion, after which the judge announced that I, juror number one, was excused, thanking me for my brief service.

As I stood up to go, facing away from the judge, I gave the nuclear physicist a little fist bump on the shoulder and I could see the envy on his face, but he gave me a quick smile as I passed between him and the judge.  I could see the envy on the face of everybody in the jury box as I squeezed past, I could see it on the faces looking up at me as I walked down the aisle, some clearly trying to piece together whatever magic incantation I had uttered that got me off the hook.  It was like I had found the Wonka golden ticket or something.

The court then went through the motions of picking somebody to fill my spot as I exited the room.  The BASF lawyer did not even begin to address juror number two until long after I had passed through the doors, though I kind of wanted to stay and see what he would do.  Juror number two was a smart guy, I hope he picked up on what I said and found a way to make it and angle for his own exit.  The auto parts guy was on his own.

I went back to work and told my boss I would be at my desk as usual, that I had been let go from jury duty.

But I watched that case as well as I could on the superior court web site.  It carried on for almost ten months, though from what I could divine, a lot of it was motions.  I am not sure the jury spent as much time in court as they might have, but I was glad to not have had to be a part of it all the same.

I started writing this post a couple years back, and it has sat in my drafts folder for a while.  Then I told the tale during a group outing to Potshot and Ula, who found it mildly am using, so I figured I would tie it up and post it.  Another of my “Not about video games” posts.

Maui Driving Adventures

My daughter complained to me a few years back that she had never been to Disneyland.

This was not true.  I pointed out pictures hanging on the wall the proved we had been not just to Disneyland, but to Disney World AND on a Disney cruise.  She pointed out that she was 3 and 4 years old in those pictures, making that was long enough ago to not count.

I had to fall back on my usual defense, which is Hawaii.  She had been to Hawaii more times before she was 8 than most people will go in their entire lives.  We have family there, including my mother, so we tend to fly there for vacations.  This tends to defuse my daughter a bit, but she is still a bit surly when her friends talk about the magic kingdom.

Maui is the usual destination for us.  Again, family.  I’ve been going there since the late 70s and my wife and I for our whole relationship, so the island is both pleasant and familiar.  So it was a natural choice for our first trip in what seemed like the post-COVID era.  When we booked back in June it seemed like we were done with that.

Then came the delta variant and by the time we were ready to fly earlier this month the governor of Hawaii was asking tourists to stay home again.  We were “visiting family” so didn’t have any problems on that front, though the state was also requiring vaccine cards and health statements and a visual check before letting anybody in.

We even found the pre-check queue at the airport before we got on our flight, which got us a “cleared” wristband to get through inspection on arrival.  Getting into Hawaii was like getting into a club, you needed a wristband to bypass the line or something.

We also had a rental car lined up.  We ended up doing that at the last minute because, back in June, rental cars were in short supply and thus very expensive… like the cost of our lodgings expensive.   The rental car companies stopped buying them because nobody was traveling, which also impacted the used car market because rental car companies break even on rentals and make their profits selling the cars when they’re done, which is a huge supply flow in the car market that suddenly dried up and now finding a used car is a bit of a chore.  Also, when people went back to traveling in May and June when the CDC prematurely said everything was good demand for rental cars drove prices through the roof.

We debated going without.  There have been trips where we have rented a car, driven it to the hotel, stayed a week, then driven it back to the airport without a trip in between.   We also looked into some other options, including one service where you rent a car from a local ala AirBnB for a day or two, which we would have needed to visit my mom who live up country, far from the shore where we were staying.

Then the delta variant put a crimp in the travel plans of many and demand dropped, bringing prices down as well.  A week before our flight the price of a car was still a bit pricey, but about a third of what it had been in June.  We reserved a compact from Sixt, which was new on the island since we last visited, so we thought we would give them a try.

After some rather poorly targeted attempts at an upsell… how about a Mercedes for more than double what you’re paying, or a convertible Mustang for triple… we were handed a slip to take to the lot that would get us a Kia Optima.  It was a bit of a beater.  The pre-listed damage sheet was a page long… but at least they gave us that because I’ve had Avis/Budget come after me for damages they signed off on… and the car had 30K miles on it, which is old for a rental, but it seemed to otherwise be passable.  Only later did I find that the Optima was considered an upgrade and that Sixt slipped in a daily upgrade charge on the invoice.  All rental car companies are horrible.

I was a bit confused at first.  The guy in the dispatch shack handed me what looked like a fob, the whole keyless proximity thing becoming more common.

It sure looks like a fob

However, when I went to look for the start button I noticed the usual steering column key receptacle.  But where was the key?  Examining the fob, I found that the little silver button on it would extend the key out like a switchblade.

The key extended

It was about a day that I was asked to stop saying, “I will cut you!” every time I flicked the key out of its recess.

The car also made some strange sounds on the highway.  If you remember the pod racing scenes from The Phantom Menace, the sound that Sebulba’s pod racer made… that was what this car sounded like.  Not obnoxiously, but reliably.

Anyway, to get to the heart of the tale after rambling up to this point, being on the island for seven nights without much of an itinerary beyond “hanging out” and visiting my mom, we decided to take a drive.

We have driven around two of the other islands, Oahu and the big island of Hawaii, both of which you can easily manage in a day with a few stops along the way.  The big island has the best roads and goes from dry badlands around Kona to rain forests around Hilo to the volcano and then the vineyards as you come back around again.  Oahu is a lot more crowded, it being the main tourist destination.  Two thirds of the way around is semi-rural and then other third is huge hotels, a naval base, and airport, and all the traffic that goes with it.

But we had never driven around Maui.

There is a reason for that.  Technically there is a stretch of east Maui where rental cars are not allowed.  Maui is smaller than the big island… duh… and larger than Oahu, but is much less developed than either.

I tend to think of Maui as an eight laying on its side, with the west end of the island being the small, upper loop, and the east side being the larger, lower loop.

Maui main highways – greatly simplified.

Kahului, where the airport is (code: OGG) is the middle of the two loops.  That is also where the harbor is… everything has to go to Honolulu first, get unloaded from the big container ships, then stacked on a barge and sailed over to Maui… the Costco and most of the main non-tourist large businesses.  It is as much of a city as the island has.

We generally stay in Kaanapali, which is past Lahaina there on the map.  It is very touristy, has decent beaches, and it a great spot to watch whales in February, when we usually go.  We have also stayed in Kihei, which is more condo rental focused.  It has better beaches than Lahaina, but the condos aren’t as pretty.  You get a couple of streets back from the beach and it feels like any apartment dense part of the country.

Further down from Kihei is Wailea and Makena where the rich people live.  Oprah has a place down there.

We had drive all of those places many times.

We had also driven the road to Hana, which I have marked in orange.  It beautiful and windy and will make children throw up. (Google “road to Hana”)  I went with my family when I was young and have no desire to make the trip again.  My wife and daughter went with my cousin about ten years back, while my aunt and I sat by the pool and read.  Our daughter threw up on the way down, as I predicted.

The red stretch on the map is dirt and gravel roads and your rental car agreement explicitly warns you that you are not allowed to drive there.

So we had been on all the roads I have marked in black and each down the orange road to Hana individually.  But we realized that we had never been all the way around the back side of the west end of Maui, the yellow stretch on the map.  So that was where we headed.  We got on Highway 30 and headed north and around the tip of the island.

It is very pretty up there.  The resorts end past Kapalua and as you round the northern tip there are bays there are excellent for snorkeling.  It is one of those places where you can see all the fish on those charts they sell about the island.  The road there is narrow and winds along the coast, but is still two lanes wide, well maintained, with a freshly painted double yellow line down the middle.  As you go further the turns become more sharp, and you are advised to honk your horn when going around some of the blind turns, but it is otherwise a solid road.

And then, as you come around the tip of the island and start heading down the back side you come to a large sign that says, “END OF STATE HIGHWAY” and it is like a zone line in a poorly joined MMORPG.  Right up to the sign is this well maintained all weather two land road, and then at the sign it suddenly changes.  You can see that a stripe had been painted down the middle at some point, but it has faded away.  The road is crumbling at the edges and has more than its share of cracks and divots.

But it is still a two land road, if a less well maintained one.  So we carried on.

This put us on the north coast of the island, which faces the open ocean.  This is where the waves and the wind happen.  Between Kahuliu and Haiku on the road that ends goes to Hana you will see lots of windsurfers on the open water.  The airport is there for a reason; the wind blows strong and continuously, making landings a bit of a “seat belts required” part of many flights.  The big waves are also along that stretch with Paia being about the center of that zone.

This is not a place of nice sandy beaches like the sheltered side of the island.  This is cliffs and volcanic rock and the power of the ocean beating against the shore.  We stopped a couple of times to take pictures.

We kept on going and after a while the road started to get a little more ragged and little more narrow.  Not a lot of people live out there and those that do tend to be outdoorsy types.  We came around a bend to be surprised by a pack of riders on ATVs roaring up the road, a pickup tailing behind.

Then the occasional signs start warning you that the road is narrow and windy ahead.  The road has to follow the coast, which has many inlets and so my nice yellow line on the map hardly represents the actual route.  Still, we were fine until a sign announced that we would be facing a single lane road ahead.

This might have been a good time to turn around, except that the road was already down to one and a half lanes between a cliff on the right side of the car and a drop off into the roiling ocean on the left, which meant turning around might be a bit dicey.  So we carried on.

The signs were very serious about the whole “one lane” business.  I became very conscious of wide spots in the road where two vehicles could pass.  As we went into each inlet we could look across the gap to see if a car was coming the other way so as to be prepared for the dance of who gets to back up when we meet.

I had to back up a number of times, nearly a quarter of a mile at one point, in order to get to a point where the car coming the other way could get around us.

Gone was any pretense of a line painted down the middle of the road.  Instead there was… now and then… a white line painted at each shoulder of the road, defining the space in which you had to stay to keep moving forward safely.  I wouldn’t want to try this whole thing at night.

We also started to see signs asking people not to honk when coming around blind corners.  Apparently tourist take those signs on the state highway very seriously and the locals have gotten sick of all the horns going off.

So I asked my wife if she had gotten a picture of one of those signs, then looked over and discovered that she was not having a good time.  I had been very focused on the road, it being the sort of drive that really requires full attention to everything going on, but had been feeling okay about things because I could see a full sized Jeep Wrangle about a half a mild ahead of us.  That thing was a good couple of feet wider than our Kia and, while it had the whole four wheel drive thing going for it, I was pretty convinced that being narrow and nimble and sounding like a pod racer was the more advantageous configuration.

My wife was a little more focused on the edge of the road and the deep blue see way down the cliff below us, so she was a bit more into gripping the arm rest and not really about taking pictures with her phone.  This caused her to make what I will call a couple of declarations against interest along the way.

We’ve been together for about 25 years at this point and, being an old married couple, bicker about stupid little things, like where things go in the cupboards or refrigerator as well as each other’s skill as a driver.  She likes to kibitz and will grab onto the arm rest when going into turn at anything over 15 mph, while I am prone to mutterings of “Oh God” and have a habit of just closing my eyes and letting my body go limp when I am sure we’re on the verge of disaster.

It is a wonder we get in the car with each other some days.  And neither of us will back down from our positions.

But here, in our rental car, going “whomp whomp whomp” down a one lane road between a mountain side and a cliff in a rural area with no cell phone reception facing locals coming the other way in full size pickup trucks barreling along with no fear, she conceded that she might not always be the best passenger and that I am a good driver.

This pair of admissions caused me to laugh out loud, which was probably the wrong thing to do, but it broke the tension of the drive.  I had been kind of quiet, focused on the road, and she had been just gripping the arm rest, but with that we felt a little better.  I started talking about my strategy for getting through this, spotting outlets, while she kept and eye out for cars and trucks coming towards us, and we both focused our scorn on this horrible one lane road.

This was a classic vacation situation for us.  We have a long tradition of going off on a lark and getting in over our heads.  Often it involves a seemingly easy hike in places like Lake Tahoe or Muir Woods or up Diamond Head on Oahu, where we get too far in to back out and realize we’re out of our depth.  I spent a good portion of time lying to her on a trail up a mountain in Marin, telling her it was downhill after the next turn, only to have her get there and see that we still had more climbing to do.

But we always managed to get through it together and then we go some place and have several drinks and curse our naivety and how sore we’ll be in the morning and swear we’ll be smarter next time.

So after a couple of moments of false hope, where the road seemed to be widening for good, only to narrow down to one lane for another few miles, and a few too many minivans coming the other way for comfort, we hit the start of the state highway again, with the road once again well paved and wide enough for two lanes with a solid double yellow line painted down the middle.

And that was our big adventure for this trip.  We contented ourselves by sitting on the beach or next to the pool for most of the rest of the time before we headed home.

Return from Highway 3000

I have been away on vacation for the last week or so, off in the land of Highway 3000.

Highway 3000 calls

That is the Hawaii state highway system number for the Lahaina Bypass, a 2.7 mile stretch or highway that lets people go around Lahaina, reducing congestion for both those who live there and those trying to get through the area.  It is a spiffy little stretch of road.  I just find 3000 to be a very big number for a very short run… plus “3000” feels like the new “2000,” the number that represents some distant technological paradise.  Anyway, it makes me smile whenever I see those signs.

Being away means that the posts between the first and today were all hastily pre-written in a flurry of activity before getting on a plane.  I would suggest that you might have noticed a decline in quality, but they all look about as half-cooked as most things I write. (I did managed to fix a couple of the more egregious typos and leave a couple of comments via my iPad.)

My new motto here is “everything is a first draft.”

The one give away might have been my lack of reaction to various events, from Apple winning most of its case against Epic or EverQuest offering perks for a price or Ji Ham being revealed to the public for the first time.  There may be a few posts to catch up if I can muster some opinions or a wry observation or two about what went on.

As for the time away, it was quite refreshing.  “Hot vax summer” has taken on a new meaning with the delta variant and wearing a mask everywhere in the tropics isn’t my idea of fun, but it was peaceful and the views were nice.

The view from our room in Kaanapali

Though they say you haven’t been to the real Hawaii until you’ve run across chickens.

Where the chickens are

There used to be chickens running around the rental car area at the airport on Maui, but they’ve since built a new rental car parking garage that is not suitable for livestock, so you have to look further afield now.

I will likely have one car related post based on our trip, probably next weekend.  For those who have enjoyed past posts, this will be another in the series.  You might even learn something about Maui.

And then there is the blog anniversary post.  Today is the actual blog anniversary, but I am not done with the post yet.  When we got home yesterday the internet was down.  After 90 minutes on the phone with Comcast technical support my only conclusion was that if you cease to suckle at the teat of the internet too long it might run dry on you when you need it again.

So I am back to sucking.

Getting Set Up with Zwift

With the coming of the pandemic and the now seemingly permanent working from home situation, what passed for an exercise regime with me… I worked at a nice campus up in the hills in a forest, so I went walking every day… fell apart pretty quickly.

So we bought an piece of exercise equipment.  A Schwinn 270 recumbent exercise bike.  I am going to throw my wife under the bus here and tell you that she chose it because she thought the seat it came with would be more comfortable than a bicycle saddle.  And I suppose it was, but only marginally so.  But that was what we had so I made use of it, trying to make at least the minimum government definition of “exercise,” which is working out for 20 minutes at least three times a week.

I kept at it, but it wasn’t fun.  I am not a big fan of exercise.  Hard work pays off in the future while laziness pays off right now, right?

Eventually my wife got around to using the bike… about a year later… and she didn’t like it.  She wanted to work out with her buddies who all had Peloton bikes and used the Peloton app and all that.  The 270 came with Bluetooth connectivity, but only with the very lame and limited app from the company.  (I think Bowflex owns the Schwinn brand for exercise equipment.)

That and the fact that the seat wasn’t all that comfortable got us on the search for a new exercise bike.  Her friends pointed at another Schwinn model, the IC4, which is billed as a Peloton compatible, fully functional with their app and several others, for less than half the price.  It had good reviews and the local sporting good store had one on display for us to sit on, so we went with that.  We even managed to fob off the 270 on my brother-in-law, which is what brothers-in-law are for, right?

The Schwinn IC4 in our house

So my wife was now happily pedaling with her pals and I had an opportunity as well.  It is a “bring your own screen” device, but it has a spot to put your iPad or other tablet above the handlebars (which I managed to put on backwards initially when assembling the whole thing, yet got everything to work) so your app can use it to connect to the bike.

I had heard from Potshot about Zwift, a training app for bicycles.

Ride On!

After his April Fools post about the app, I asked him about it and we tinkered about a bit trying to get the old 270 running on it, but it was not to be.  This is where I learned about the limitations of its Bluetooth and app compatibility.

The Schwinn IC4 was said to be fully compatible with Zwift, but you never now how compatible until you get there.  I didn’t know that much about Zwift when I started out, and I honestly don’t know all that much now, but I did learn about the whole power meter aspect of its connectivity.

I had played around with a cadence counter back with the 270 and actually got myself hooked up to the Zwift app, but counting how many times the pedals go around isn’t enough.  I could pedal for all I was worth and maybe break 7 MPH because there was no power meter output.

The power meter is what measures the effort you’re putting into pedaling.  Without one the Zwift app assumes a static, and very low amount.

If you have a smart trainer, which is one of those things you mount as the back wheel of your bike in a static setup, it measures your effort, translated into watts, which can be adjusted via your gearing and the amount of resistance the smart trainer is applying to your effort.

My power output and speed… going down a 6% grade

The Zwift app lets you ride around in a virtual world… I probably should have mentioned that earlier, though I suspect you might have guess that… and the connection with a smart trainer lets it change the amount of effort required as your avatar goes up and down hills.  It can be quite realistic as I understand it.  But I haven’t owned a bicycle since my last one was stolen when I was 13.

The Schwinn also has a power meter, or at least feeds effort information that lines up as power to the app.  I do not, however, feel any change in effort when heading uphill or down.  The only way I feel a change is if I adjust the resistance dial on the bike itself.  When I dial it up, by power output for a given number of revs goes up as well.

I am honestly not sure if this is an advantage or disadvantage.  As soon as I am going uphill my speed slows down because my power output and cadence remains the same.  So hills are not actually more work for me, unless I make them so.  But they do reduce the distance I travel.

The bike itself knows nothing about it and has its own tracking method for distance, which uses resistance and cadence to calculate speed, which multiplied by time gets me a distance traveled.  But that is completely flat terrain based, so the bike and the app can give me some different results at the end of a ride.

The two do not agree

So I have gotten myself setup and riding.  I have met or exceed my minimum weekly minimum exercise goal with Zwift so far.  It does the things I want it to, like showing me my individual workouts and keeping track of my overall effort.  And it even has levels and achievements.

That pizza icon for calories is a little on the nose for me

Meanwhile, the IC4 is also frankly much easier to ride than the 270 ever was… take that recumbent bike zealots… so gets used more, and takes up less space as well.

So you can find me pedaling around a virtual world.  Next time a bit about where I ride and what keeps me going.

On Blogging, Motivation, and Passion

It is “staying motivated” week in the Blaugust event and I figured it was about time for me to post something Blaugust related.  I have not been very attentive to the event, wandering off in whatever direction takes me, as is my usual pattern.

On the topic of motivation I have a little story.

When my daughter got to middle-school (which for some reason is 5th through 7th grade in our local district, it used to be junior high school when I was that age, and was mostly just 7th and 8th grades), she was able to pick an elective class and she wanted to take band.

It wasn’t an easy choice.  She also wanted to take art, something she enjoyed and was already into.  But band won out because it was new and different.  She went with flute as an instrument, and we went down to the music store and rented her a flute.

She did well enough in band I suppose.  She practiced at home.  She went to all of the events.  She seemed to enjoy it well enough.  She took band for a second year, sticking with the flute.

For the third year of band she switched to the baritone saxophone.  The flute, which was a rent-to-own deal, was paid off just about the time she made the switch.  A baritone sax is a much more expensive instrument, but the school had one for her to use.  She went with the sax both because it was kind of cool… we were watching Bojack Horseman around then, and the opening theme is heavy on the sax… and because the band needed somebody to play it as the person who had been playing moved on to high school.

So we had the bari sax around the house.

Our cat Rigby making himself at home with the sax

She did that for a year, though I think she enjoyed posing with the sax more than she liked playing it.  She borrowed my sunglasses for performances.

Then came eight grade and when she was signing up for classes she asked me, rather hesitantly, if she could not take band.  She wanted to take art.

Her tone said to me that she was afraid we would be disappointed in her choice, but I told her right away that it was fine, she should take art if that was what she wanted.

I explained to her that I could see she wasn’t really into band.  While she practiced as often as was recommended and took things seriously, I had never once seen her play her instrument… flute or sax… just because she wanted to.  She did her time, then moved on to what she really wanted to do, which was often art.

She had no passion for music.  People I know who do will play just to play, will figure out how to play something they heard just from listening to it.  My step-brother used to sit in his room with his headphones on just figuring out a song for hours on end.

Meanwhile, she clearly had a passion for art.  She had a drawing tablet hooked up to her computer, a copy of PhotoShop Elements along with a few other art and design titles, and would sit for hours just trying to get something right… not because she had to but because she wanted to.

I never had to tell her to put down the flute or the sax and go to bed, but I got up a number of times in the middle of the night to tell her to put down her sketch pad and go to sleep.

If you have a passion for something then motivation will come.  And if motivation does not come… well, maybe blogging or band or whatever isn’t really your thing.

Which I guess isn’t a very motivational message.  But maybe it can be a guide to help find motivation.  We all seem to be able to find the time to do the things we really want to do, so if blogging is feeling like a chore, perhaps it isn’t for you.  Or maybe you just haven’t found an aspect of blogging that works for you.

I like writing long winded narratives about what I did in this game or that.  I enjoy telling a story.  I almost always feel I have to establish my relationship with a topic to write about it.

But that is just my style.  There are lots of options.  Some people like to do reviews or game guides or write in the voice of their in-game character or track statistics or complain loudly and make up irrational conspiracies.  There is room for all of that and more.

When you find your niche, motivation will follow.  And if blogging isn’t it at all, then maybe videos or streaming or screen shots or something else is.

Or maybe just cute cat pictures.

Anyway, if you haven’t found motivation here… and I’ll admit that I didn’t have much to offer in that regard… maybe one of the other Blaugust participants can help you along.  There are 46 others from which to choose:


The Missing Tree

A little after 5:30pm last Saturday as I was making myself some dinner there was a sudden loud sound, like somebody dropped a bunch of metal parts on a hard floor.  A crash, if you will, from somewhere outside.

I put on my shoes and went outside to see what I could see.  Around the corner and up the street a bit there was a car that had run into a tree.  In our neighborhood there is a stretch of space between the sidewalk and the street, the curb strip, and in front of each house there is a large tree planted there.

By the time I got over there some of the neighbors had already gathered around the car, a Pontiac Bonneville, and the woman who had been driving it was standing next to the car yelling into her cell phone.  She looked to be shaken but okay.  The airbags had deployed, so she was probably spared any serious injury.

The crash

She was not interested in any help and was aggressively telling the neighbors to go away and not call the police.  As I walked up I could see she had an ankle monitor on, which probably explained why she was not interested in any help from the authorities.

One of the neighbors insisted on calling the police however and the woman then fled the scene, running up the street away from the direction I had come.

The fire department showed up first, which is expected as the firehouse is just two blocks away.  The head of the crew asked about the driver and we gave him a general description and a “she went that away” response.

An ambulance showed up shortly thereafter, but left after a brief interval, there being no driver to check on or transport.

Then the police showed up and started going through the car and asking about the driver.  The fire crew, seeing there was nothing for them to do either, made like the ambulance and drove off.

By this point I had wandered off to check on my dinner in the over, but I stepped out and peeked around the corner whenever I heard something going on.

A flatbed car carrier showed up next and the police blocked off the street while it got lined up on the car, cranked it onto the truck, and carried it away.  I could see a detective on the scene as well, probably from the county and probably looking for the woman with the ankle monitor.

Things got quiet for a bit, then a couple of big trucks rolled up.  I walked out and saw the crew dismount and start sizing up the tree.  They had a wood chipper in tow behind one of the trucks.

The tree which, as you can see in that picture, not only shed a considerable number of branches but also ended up noticeably off true, appeared to have been declared a hazard in need of immediate attention.  In a quite 15 minutes of loud grinding and chain saws the tree was gone, the trucks rolling off into the evening.  It was a little after 7:30pm.

My wife and daughter, who had been at Ikea, came home as the tree crew was finishing up.  I told them what had happened and said that if they had been a few minute later they might not have seen any evidence that anything at all had occurred, unless they noticed that a tree was missing up the street.

And then I realized that the people who live in the house were nowhere to be seen.  There is usually a car in the driveway, but nobody was home.  I am sure the city or the police will notify them as to what happened, but I have to wonder what they thought when they got home and everything was calm and peaceful… except that the tree on their curb strip was missing.

Memories of a Checkstand Lifestyle

A strange thing happened on the way to my COVID-19 vaccine shot.  Well, not on the way, but at the location where I got it.  In the online concert-ticket rush to get a vaccine appointment the first appointment I was able to snag was at the Safeway on Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View.

That happened to be the store I worked at in high school and college back in the 80s.

I had not been back to that store for ages.  Even in the 90s when I had an apartment just a couple miles down the road I made a point of shopping elsewhere.  When I went back into the store for the first time in at least 20 years, I was hit with a reverie of memories, good and bad.

And it isn’t even the same store.  At some point in the 90s they tore down the store I worked in, which was done in that somewhat iconic mid-century style with tall ceilings and large front windows that let in a lot of light.  I probably have a picture of the store somewhere, but I am too lazy to dig it out right now, so I grabbed an image from the web that gives the right sense of what I mean.

A typical 60s Safeway store design

That image is about the same template as the store I used to work in, right down to the rocky wall style outside the exit door.  The store there now is more in the squared off, few windows, design.  But every store has a similar feel and even that new style couldn’t repress the flood of images and emotions of being in that location.

Working in a grocery store is kind of a strange retail experience.  You end up seeing the same people over and over.  And this store, nestled in the middle of several large apartment complexes, was especially prone to the “same faces” phenomena.  Apartment dwellers, as I was told, tend to buy groceries more frequently, often stopping in on the way home from work to buy something for dinner.  So I often saw the same people every evening I was there.

And, living not too far away, the strangeness was compounded.  I would go to downtown Mountain View for lunch or to visit the used bookstore and would constantly see faces I recognized.  Some I would be able to place… this guy smokes Marlboro reds in the box, that woman is a pain in the ass about showing her ID when writing a check, and this other person isn’t allowed in the store because we busted them for shoplifting… but others were just annoyingly familiar but lacking the context of the store in which to place them.

It was a decent job at the time, though I worked through what was very much a transitional era for the grocery industry.  Or one of them anyway.  It was a union job.  I had to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, which was still a new-ish union at the time, being a consolidation of a couple unions.  I showed up just as the union was losing its leverage.  There had been a big strike a few months before and the union had to make quite a few concessions.

I started as a bag boy, or a courtesy clerk in the contract parlance, and spent my first year bagging groceries, putting things back on the shelves, cleaning up spills, and rounding up shopping carts in the parking lot.  At the time we had electro-mechanical cash registers that looked to be out of the 50s.  I remember once, early on, the power went out and the cashiers all had to fish around in the checkstands to find the cranks that attached to the side of the registers and allowed them to be operated manually.  There was a journal tape from each register than had to be pulled every night after the store closed and was used to reconcile the books for the day, something that often took hours.  Any mistakes made by cashiers had to have a note in the cash drawer to help with the balance.

Those were soon replaced by NCR electronic cash registers, which had a 10 key pad and could take code numbers for specific products to get prices.  Those were in place before the summer I went off to checkers school.  Learning to be a checker, being promoted to food clerk, meant spending a week up in Oakland at the Safeway training center taking a class that you could fail.

I had to learn to use the 10 key pad by touch, accurately key in prices, know the categories of items which meant knowing the arcane sales tax rules of the state (which meant knowing things like water not being taxable, unless in containers under a half gallon or in frozen form (ice) and prepared food not being taxable unless it was heated), and the dreaded fruit and vegetable identification test.  This involved a timed test where I had to identify the fruit or vegetable in question and supply the produce code for it.  There was a lookup sheet for the codes, but if you had to look them all up you during the test you might not make the time limit.  There were 50 items to identify and you were only allowed to miss five on the test.  There were people who did not make the cut.  I drove up to Oakland with another person taking the class and we would quiz each other in the car on the ride back and forth.  I had college classes that were less demanding.

But this was when the union was still pushing the image of professional food clerks.  And the pay, at the time, was decent.  As a freshly minted food clerk in 1985 I made $7.68 hour.  But, after every 500 hours on the job I got a raid, which capped out after 2,000 hours… basically a year of full time work… at $13.48 an hour.

That doesn’t sound like much in an era when we’re talking about a $15 an hour minimum wage, but that was decent money.  And there was overtime, holiday pay (double time), Sunday pay (time and two thirds when I started, time and a half after the next contract), and a 50 cent per hour premium for hours worked between 7pm and 7am.  And, if you wanted to run the show, be in charge when the boss was away, there was also head clerk pay, which I immediately signed up for, so ended up earning a lot more during my 2,000 hour run up to journeyman clerk than I might have otherwise.

I made more in 1987 than I did at my first three post-Safeway jobs in tech.  I think my total income in 1994 finally passed my Safeway peak.  Couples I knew who both worked for Safeway bought houses, raised kids, and sent them off to college on journeyman food clerk salaries.

My health insurance was basically no cost to me.  They handed me a Kaiser card and required no employee contribution.  Of course, that is also a reflection of how messed up the US health care system has become.  And if I worked the equivalent of ten years of full time I qualified for the first tier of the long since gone pension system.

It felt like a bit of a plateau in my life, that I had hit the first step where I had a real job, decent pay, and could be an adult if I so desired.  A lot of people I worked with dropped out of college and decided to stick with Safeway as a career.  You were getting a decent paycheck every week and the work wasn’t horrible.

Of course, there were a lot of downsides to the job, the general public being a key one.  But it was an uncertain life.  Only those employees designated as “full time” were guaranteed at least 32 hours a week.  Everybody else, myself included, only had to be given 16 hours a week.  If business was slow, staffing had to follow, and you could find yourself getting some thin paychecks.

And the work schedule… I blame my own current unwillingness to plan very far ahead on that.  The schedule for a given week was supposed to be posted in the store by 5pm on the Thursday of the preceding week, but good luck with that.  So, generally speaking, I didn’t know what I was up to until Friday of the week before, and how you got scheduled was the luck of the draw and how much the boss liked you.  They had to schedule to cover the store needs, so you might end up working all hours of the day or night.  I generally worked 3pm to midnight during the week, which covered the peak evening rush.  But I might work 6am to 3pm on Saturday to cover the frozen food or dairy guy’s day off or midnight to 9am if one of the night stocking crew was on vacation.  I had weeks where I just worked evenings for long stretches… the manager would get lazy once in a while and just re-used the previous week’s schedule if there were no vacations to cover… and I had weeks during the summer when people were out on vacation where I saw every hour of the day in the store.

Then there was vacation.  Even as the lowliest clerk on the list I was allowed two weeks of vacation.  But the sign up for vacation was a bit of a challenge.  A big chart would go up at the beginning of the year, with all employees listed out in seniority order.  Everybody picked their weeks in that order, but the store could only allow so many people to be out on a given week, and once that number was hit for a given week, that week was blocked out.  So not only did I have to know when exactly I wanted to go on vacation at some point in mid-January, I could only choose weeks that were still open to me when it was finally my turn to pick.

I think I got a week in April and a week in October that time around, which corresponded pretty much to the two ends of the allowed vacation season.  And the weekly work schedule was written from Sunday through Saturday, so your vacation weeks, which had to be taken in week long chunks, were also Sunday to Saturday.  If the boss liked you, you might get the Saturday before and Sunday after your vacation off.  But you wouldn’t know about the Sunday in advance, since the schedule wouldn’t be up until the Thursday before.

It was very much a lifestyle.  I was often working when most people were done with work and off in the middle of prime business hours.  I had a new car and an apartment in Mountain View that some Google employee is probably paying more than three grand a month to rent now.

Eventually though it became clear I could finish school or keep working at Safeway.  I got a lot of hours, so always had money, but never had time, which led to me taking fewer classes than I should.  I never skipped a semester, but there were some weak showing when it came to units.   Eventually we got a manager that told me he’d schedule me whenever he damn well pleased… previous ones had been good about at least giving me the first half of the day for classes… and I put in my notice as soon as the fall semester got close.

That was well over 30 years ago but, to this day, when I have anxiety dreams I don’t dream about showing up for a final exam and realizing I haven’t studied or getting to the end of a semester and finding out that I forgot to drop a class or any of the usual suspects.  I dream that I have gone for lunch on my shift back then and forgot to get back when my time was up or that I am there and ready for my shift but have forgotten my apron or name badge or some other part of the required uniform.  I sometimes dream that I still work there part time, that I never quit, or that I had to go back to help make ends meet.

Anyway, two visits to that store… I have both of my vaccine shots now… shook up a bunch of old memories.  If I can filter them down I might make a series about some aspects of the job.  There were some humorous bits as well as the usual disappointing human behavior and the reality of having to deal with people every day.