Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I'm Just Sick About This

It's easy to have your blog recount nothing but your rants, and I don't want to do this. But just one more thing, with your patience, please.

I got a Congress-approved raise of 2.3% raise as a federal retiree in December 2007. However, in January I received word that my health care premiums doubled. I now pay about $250 per month for my precious health coverage.

I was talking with my friend George today, and his doubled as well. However, he has family coverage. So his premiums went from approximately $250 per month to over $500 a month. And he's mad as hell.

Not much of a raise. Instead, my retiree annuity dropped over $100 a month. Somehow I'm losing.

I can't wait to not get my $600 from the federal government -- my freebie for being a taxpayer and a consumer -- because I make too much.

Oh, well. As George said, at least we have health insurance. One of his daughters joined her boyfriend's health plan as a domestic partner; his other daughter joined the student health plan at her university. Both George and his wife are going single payer as it's cheaper. And I don't think any of my nephews is enrolled in a health plan at all; it's too expensive.

So I should count my chickens. Except that I have fewer chickens than last year.

Two Is a Crowd

I went to see Charlie Wilson's War yesterday in the beautiful new Bay Street AMC movie theatre. Eight of us attended, near as I could tell.

Over the first 15 minutes of the movie, the two women on my left talked to each other. About half an hour in, the guy in front of me answered his cell phone. He took it over to the hallway so that we could hear his conversation. He did this once more. When he came back each time, he climbed over the railing.

About half of the people in the theatre left at some point and came back later.

At least there wasn't a baby in the theatre. That was the day before, when I had watched Atonement. The baby was actually a pretty good baby, not crying but moaning and chirping for about the first 10 minutes of the film. And in that theatre, a couple of cell phones rang.

These are not kids who are going to this movie. At Charlie Wilson's War, all eight of us were older than 40, including the guy who climbed over the rail. They should know better. They should know that when I pay $10 to see a movie, I would like to see the movie.

It's for reasons like this that I'm not going to the movie houses as often. My friend George tells me that he believes we used to believe in a private space around us, and now we don't. I think it's a television mentality, that we go to the theatre with whomever we want, a baby included, and make as much noise as we wish. We answer our cellphones, we take pictures from our cellphones of interesting moments in the film, and we never stay for the credits.

I just don't understand that. Clearly I'm from a different planet.

I've been going to a lot of recent releases because I want to watch the Oscar-nominated films. Soon I'll be able to go back to my own home theatre, relax, and shove a DVD in the slot. At least I won't be imagining gleefully of shoving something else somewhere else.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Welcome to City Hall

I went down to 250 Frank Ogawa Plaza today in Oakland, to the City Hall. I was told by Joseph that I needed to take a certified copy of the deed for Circle Hill into the city to show them ownership. This is so that we can file for a rebate after the seismic upgrading is done.

The inspector had just come Friday, and Joseph told me he said everything looked good. They will be starting the work this week. So, I thought everything would work out better if I did this first thing Monday, before the rains came, and just got it over with.

I was wrong.

I found parking only after 15 minutes of looking, and only two blocks away. Gee! Walking past all the guys conferring with each other in front of the liquor store on 14th Street (why do they have to do that?), I found City Hall. I had been here once before to ask a few questions about a business tax that they stick me with every year. Much to my surprise, the woman answered all my questions and was quite pleasant. I walked away and mailed in the tax.

On the advise of the security guard in front, I went to the 2nd floor, immediately went to the wrong side, and was told to go to the other side. God, it looked like a DMV. I got a number, dragged out the pitiful sports section of the Tribune, and read until my number came up.

The guy at the counter had no idea what I was talking about. "I'm new," he said, smiling. Oh great, I thought, not smiling. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't find the file. He asked me for I.D. but when I told him I wasn't the property owner, he didn't insist on it. (Oh, good thing....sheesh.) Thanks to the woman to the right of him, who gave him instructions, the woman to the left of him, who had the file after all after 20 minutes of looking, and the guy he asked advice of, he changed my name in the system to Ruth's, and added the proper mailing address. He then handed me back the form I had filled out and the certified copy of the deed.

Is that all there is? Of course, I'm worried that there's more. After all, why would you fill out a form when it isn't even used?

So I'll save everything for next time. Next time? Yeah, I have to go in after the project is completed and prove that Ruth still owns the place. I have no idea how I'm going to do that. And I knew I couldn't ask this clerk. He's new.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A's Fanfest 2008

I actually didn't think I was attending Fanfest this year. There figured to be a great storm Saturday morning. The Fanfest tickets (and parking pass) I usually get for free as a season ticket holder didn't arrive this year. However, I woke up early on Saturday morning, checked the weather, got on my gear and went. I'm glad I did.

As I sat in the cold stands, with my new A's beanie on my head to keep my ears warm, waiting for Billy Beane and company to speak, I remembered that this, 2008, is my 19th year as an A's fan. I looked over the Coliseum, no longer thought of as a worthy venue for baseball, and remembered that this was where the kids learned the Star Spangled Banner. Went on vendor watch. This was where Jamie mingled among the players in the dugout, Aaron threw out the first pitch, and Terry Steinbach hit his first and last inside-the-park homerun, all in the same game. This was where the players went on strike, the umpires went on strike, and I attended nevertheless, in winning seasons, in losing seasons, in severely disappointing seasons. Here I am.

I was surprised at how many people showed up. Surely not as many as two years ago when I last attended. (They later reported 10,500 showed up as opposed to the 20,000+ in recent years.) You have to remember that the A's Fanfest is one of the best around, certainly better than the Giants'. You can meet players, get autographs, have your photo taken with them. Question the GM in front of the faithful Green and Gold. Lots of giveaways at booths all up and down the concession walk. I think a lot of people, the adults, came today because they wanted to rant, maybe whine, at GM Billy Beane. I liked what Carl Steward of the Oakland Tribune had to say today: "As usual, the A's will allow fans to tour the clubhouse, where they can see where Dan Haren, Nick Swisher and Mark Kotsay used to dress." That's why I was so surprised when so many at the microphone were very tentative and polite when they questioned him. But the very fact that they asked the same questions, over and over, spoke volumes.

Why did you trade (fill in the blank)? How do you expect these young whippersnappers to do this year, and how effing long do we have to wait for a winning season? How healthy are the shot-and-put-out-of-their-misery players from last year, all of whom were on the DL? In other words, explain yourself, Billy!

I liked Billy's answer: He brought on Shannon Stewart, and the rest of the staff traded Haren, Swisher, Kotsay, Scutaro. So you can blame them. At least he has a sense of humor. Many of the fans don't.

Bob Geren is the same. Positive. Optimistic. Taking orders. No surprise there. Except that he changed his jersey number this year from 53 to 17. Both were previous jersey numbers he had had. Only he's the 17th manager of the A's. So, maybe to change his luck for this year, he changed numbers.

I had a chance to look over the schedule for April and beyond. LOTS and lots of giveaways. They had a computer survey last year when you came to the park that let you tell them what kinds of giveaways we wanted. So, in response, they have bobbleheads and jerseys, with a few caps sprinkled in for good measure as giveaways at games this year.

Before I came into the park I went by the season ticket office, went in, and found myself 2nd in line. I had received a free voucher for two free field level tickets for any game in April. I also bought tickets for two other games. $35 per field level ticket! Ouch! I appreciate the voucher that much more. What is even more surprising, though, is that I had a hard time finding ONE aisle seat in the 1st base area. It seems that people are buying tickets...? Can that be true?

In my walkaround I found a booth staffed with Customs and Border Protection officers, willing to talk about future careers. Young guys. I took one of their giveaways, a pen, and told them that I was a retired Customs officer. "Oops," I said, "I mean CBP." One of them replied, "You'd be surprised how many people still call it 'Customs.'"

I went into a little room after the Billy Beane/Bob Geren/David Forst show, and listened to Rob Bowen (2nd string catcher) and Tye Waller talk. Tye is the first base coach of the A's, now entering his second year. I had a chance to listen to him last year at an A's Booster Club luncheon. He really is charismatic and a great communicator. Bowen is soft spoken, a big guy, trying to fill every sentence with as much information as possible without a period. I appreciated the fact that these guys showed up to talk with us. And, wouldn't you know, they autographed after the session! I deliberately avoided buying autograph tickets because they wouldn't tell you who would be there, and I pictured all the Double-A recently acquired guys showing up. But, no, the Athletics did it right. Showing up were: Donnie Murphy, Mark Ellis, Jack Hannahan, Rich Harden, Lenny Dinardo, Dana Eveland and Alan Embree. Actually, out of all those, I would've wanted only Ellis' autograph. He might be gone mid-season, as he's one of the few sure-things we have as a player.

I'll be there to find out.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ring, Ring, Go Away

I have a phone, a landline, that rings every five minutes.

It rings because it's almost February 5th. John Edwards wants my vote. Hillary Clinton wants my vote. Some damn Republican wants my vote.

It rings because charitable organizations want more. It rings because the San Francisco Symphony can't do it all by itself. It rings because some friends haven't gotten the message.

The message is: I don't answer this phone.

This is the greatest invention since, well, maybe not sliced bread, but pretty darn close. I answer my cell phone. Friends know that's my number. Contractors know my cell phone number.

Problems occur when I give out the phone number to someone I really want to hear from, like StubHub when I'm buying spring training tickets. Turns out there was a problem in that the guy selling me the tickets never replied to his email, and they had to cancel the order. But, hey, I listen to the voicemail every day and pick up such messages.

I don't hear the phone when I'm asleep because I have it on low and soft. Some have suggested that I get rid of the ring entirely, but I kind of like to know when the robots are calling. And I'd have to get a new phone to mute the ring. Why bother.

I like this system. Why didn't I think of it sooner?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Our Annual Trip to the Wine Country

We went to the Sonoma County wine area over the long weekend, and went a-winin'. We stayed at our Worldmark timeshare in Windsor.

This is our 3rd annual trip. The last one was interrupted by important health concerns, so I was glad we got back on the horse. There were 7 of us, two families and an adoptee, and we hitched our plans to the Winter Wineland event.

You buy a $40 ticket for the weekend, which lets you into over 100 wineries in the area, for the tastings. The best part about it, I thought, was that each one offered some food along the way.

You have to pick a winery to check-in, so we picked Preston of Dry Creek Winery, a small one a bit north of Healdsburg. We figured fewer people would check in there. It was a really nice little place, a bit hard to get to through narrow roads. There was a pizza kitchen in the back (from where they gave us pizza as part of the Wineland package), and a large backyard with picnic benches and hungry cats.

You know, I had THREE wine maps this weekend, and all of them have disappeared! Otherwise, I'd use them to tell you where we went. We went to at least 7, I think, on Saturday, and 3 more on Sunday (and only one of those on Sunday were connected with Winter Wineland).

So I'll attempt to name some we visited besides Preston. Rafanelli's (by special invitation, after we called and bugged them), Raymond Burr (the port was sold out, so we turned right around and left), David Coffaro, Fritz, Frick. Pedroncelli Winery, Bella Vineyards (with a large tent for the food, leading into the cave where they served their tastings), Dutcher Crossing Winery, Martinelli Winery, and Unti Vineyards and Winery. The best food? Probably the vegetarian (no pork, no seafood) paella at Bella. Frick, however, had the makings for s'mores, and such a friendly staff person that brought wine out just for me, a tasting of the zinfandel. Jamie bought some Red Red. I have no idea what that is. But, anyway, holding a tree stick stuck with two marshmallows over an outdoor wood fire, and coupling it with graham crackers and chocolate...mmmmmmmm.

We also met some lovable cats and dogs along the way. I did a much better job of spitting and dumping what I didn't want so that I wasn't blitzed and terribly tired when we called it a day. And the food helped.

I think next year we're talking about Angel's Camp and Gold Country. Maybe with some local wineries on the itinerary.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The World's Worst Airports

I just read a story about the world’s worst airports. Ahh, I thought. I subject so near to my heart.

So, from my own experience, here is my own list. Keep in mind, of course, that I can’t review airports I haven’t lunged through.

In ascending order, here are the top, er, worst airports.

5. Tokyo (Narita).
Small for what it's asked to do. The actual boarding area is tiny. The Customs area has no signage, just sumo-like, stern officers waiting to rip your suitcase apart in a quite methodical, wordless way. You will invariably follow the crowd and find yourself in the wrong line. When my traveling companion disappeared, taken "somewhere" by Japanese officials as we were about to leave Narita for Hong Kong, I didn't panic. I knew she'd reappear at some point. She did.
4. Toronto. They're remodeling. Keep telling yourself that. So, when you get off one flight, you take a shuttle to the next satellite, you reclaim your luggage, clear security and Customs, re-check your luggage, find the right gate (which will inevitably be switched), and THEN you get onboard your flight. One hour, two hours: not enough time to make the switch.
3. Frankfurt and Munich. Is there a difference? Both too small for the immense traffic they serve. When you get off one European flight to get to another, you have to go through security and Customs all over again.
2. Amsterdam. A real nightmare when you come in from that delightful city. Total chaos. You can't see or find the check-in gate for your airline because everything is so confusing. Once you get past the godawfully slow security, however, you're in a nice little oasis for the rest of the waiting time.
1. Charles de Gaulle. One of the hellholes of aviation Europe. There are so many people you can't see the signs. They're forced to erect security stations that obviously have no they have further security stations along your path. Insane.

Honorable mention:

6. Kansas City, Missouri.
They've separated the airport into mini-cages. Once you go into one, clear all your hand-carried luggage and your person through security, there is no restroom. If you need one, you have to go through the whole thing again after you leave. Not enough officers for a system like that, and not enough x-ray parts. The lack of x-rays meant that officers had to hand-search luggage, time and again.
7. Bologna. There's no there there. Thank goodness there aren't a lot of flights landing, a fact that taxi drivers seem to heed since there are none there when you need them.
8. Venice. Italy, not California. Not a bad little airport, except there are no cafes in the lobby, no money exchange on weekends, and the big thing: most of the airport is surrounded by water. It is so far away from where you want to go that you'd better have a plan when you get off that plane after 10 hours of exhaustion.

I didn't list Rome, because a tour guide met me there both times. And I didn't list Heathrow, easily on everybody's worst list, and I suspect that is because I had a friend with me each time who knew her way. I was just charmed by the fact that I was in England.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hillary Joins the Women in U.S. Politics

I went through a long of angst and....hmmm...hard to describe. Maybe nightmares of memories. This was the day prior to the night New Hampshire vote counting in the Dem primary. (Btw, Hillary is my candidate of choice.)

So, that afternoon I was complaining to my lunch companion that, because Hillary’s eyes welled up with tears and she choked back some words, there will be a deathly cry of “Oh, no! We can’t have an emotional president! That’s what women do!” And just then, I realized that we’re not living in the 21st century. America hasn’t changed. And I was morose.

I remember when Geraldine Ferraro was a vice-president candidate, Walter Mondale's running mate, but went down in bloody flames (to surging Ronald Reagan), especially when her husband turned out to be not a media darling (for good reason). And whatever happened to Geri, clearly one of the most erudite women in American politics? Dark memories of those days flashed in my mind yesterday as well. And I also remember Shirley Chisholm, who was so proud, so well-spoken, and who happened to be black. She was the first African American woman elected to Congress (1968, representing New York's 12th district for 7 terms). On January 23, 1972, she became the first major party African American candidate for President of the United States. She was mostly ignored in the white male media, but she won 162 delegates.

So I’m pretty happy today. Change is around the corner for sure. God….have you never heard the word “change” used so much in your life? I remember when “The Change” was codeword for menopause….but maybe that’s a sign of age. Apparently “Change” is the 2008 political word. And apparently they don’t mean menopause.

But the emotional scene actually changed a few people's minds in New Hampshire. They thought she seemed more human. Whodathunkit. And the pollsters were so wrong in that state. Just goes to show you that this campaign race is going to be ultra hard to predict. Just as people are hard to predict.

An African-American being taken seriously for President. A woman being taken seriously for President. They told me Change is gonna come in the ‘60’s, and I believed them. I just didn’t think it would take so long.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Things That Worry Me in 2008

My 60th birthday is in October. I don't know what we'll do to celebrate (or fend-off, perhaps I should say). There are too many events, one of which in May is very important, between now and then to worry about and engage.

The Oakland Athletics. ARRRGGGGH!!! Thank you. I don't feel better. Billy Beane, the GM, decided one winter meeting day to suddenly pull the carpet out from the team. One day he decided Dan Haren and Joe Blanton were expendable for younger, untried players. And then, one month after trading Dan Haren for a handful of terrific prospects from Arizona, he traded Nick Swisher for three prospects to the Chicago White Sox. I loved Nick Swisher. I'm now looking at my A's calendar, a giveaway I got at one of the A's games last season, and the centerfold (Esteban Loiaza), July (Shannon Stewart) September (Dan Haren), October (Nick Swisher), centerfold (Joe Kennedy, now deceased), and December (Marco Scutaro) are all gone. And any months left are currently on the block and may be gone by spring training in March. Billy is serious. The worst part of all this is that I understand and agree with what he's doing: The only way to compete is to start all over, and plan for 2009. If anything, he may have started too late. It just kills me when I look at my calendar, not to mention my A's shirts with names on the back.

Okay, not worry. Concerned. Concerned. The presidential race. Wow, this is really exciting if not going exactly the way I would want. I never paid much attention to it before, not because I didn't care, but I just felt I didn't have the time. But it is so interesting to watch our process play out. It certainly is flawed -- I mean, a caucus in Iowa?? Just for Democrats?? -- but it certainly is fascinating.

We're fixing up the house on Circle Hill. It's going fairly well. Faster in some ways, slower in others. This coming week we have the refinishing of the hardwood floors and the beginning of a major project involving seismic updating. It's exciting, especially when you can see all the planning borne out in something about the house that's been improved, that's been made safer. And that's terrific. But it will take at least another month, I think, before the whole thing is finished. I should say, before what we had planned to achieve at this phase will be completed. An old house like that always faces updating. But it will be livable within days.

Who picks the ties these presidential candidates wear? They should all watch Boston Legal and Frasier to see how it's done.