Monthly Archives: January 2012

“License and registration please …”

It’s no secret to those who have known me any length of time that I seem to have a thing with law enforcement.

Read that carefully: I have a thing with law enforcement, not for law enforcement.

What that means is that, over the past 20 years, I’ve amassed a fairly high number of, shall we say, random meetings with law enforcement officers, usually on the side of the road. I blame the officers themselves, really, at least the ones in the early days. For 12 years I was married to a cop – first he was a small town officer, then a deputy sheriff and then eventually a police officer in the city I was working – and for six of those years I covered crime as a reporter.

I knew the members of the law enforcement fraternity and I knew them fairly well. I drank beer with some of them, went to ball games and parties with them. I threw showers for their weddings and first babies and they (or their wives) threw showers for mine. We were family.

And, as family members often do, they would tend to look the other way when minor infractions occur, like when I would drive 65 in a 55 on my way to work. In 13 years of commuting to work, I was pulled over 33 times – but only received three tickets. I was scolded – a lot. One state patrol officer – a man I actually knew from high school – took his hat off and yelled at me, but didn’t write a ticket. Another trooper gave me a warning – then blew his copy up into an 8×10 replica and left it on my husband’s desk.

You can see how the habit was fed. If you do something, get caught and don’t get into trouble, what’s the motivation to stop doing it?

After my divorce and move out to eastern Iowa, the one thing that I forgot was that I didn’t know the officers out here. I’d go speeding by and get pulled over, but there was no turning the other way, no “speeding forgiveness.” Not even a lecture. Just a ticket. And it didn’t take too long for the tickets to add up and for me to get a personalized invitation to driver’s school.

That essentially ended my speeding habit, as well as my getting pulled over on a regular basis. In the last five years I think I’ve been pulled over three times and have gotten one ticket.

Until this month. In less than two weeks I was pulled over twice, and both were symbolic of just how bored the police in my little burg must be.

The first time was a Monday afternoon (Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday, so I wasn’t at work) and I had borrowed a friend’s Hyundai Sante Fe to pick up an entertainment center my daughter bought online. Halfway there I passed a police officer on the side of the road – and he quickly got behind me and turned on his lights.

The offense: A headlight was out. (Ooooh, call in SWAT. Did I mention it was the middle of the afternoon?) I told him it wasn’t my car, he didn’t write a ticket and told me to fix the light. I said I’d pass the message along.

Two nights ago I was driving home from the gym and got a block away from home when, again, a police car got behind me and turned on his lights. I could swear it was the same officer.

This offense: A broken plate bulb. Yes, that’s right, the little bitty bulb over my rear license plate was out, and apparently it’s against Iowa Code to not have your license plate illuminated. Cuff me officer, I can’t believe this danger to society is still walking the streets.

I guess I should be happy that the police department in my community is so under-worked because of the low amount of crime that they have to find silly reasons to pull people over — but trust me, when it comes to random meeting of officers I’m well over my quota.

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I think my dogs have ADD (Or “Next time I’m getting gerbils”)

Max

I love my dogs. Most mornings we’re able to take leisurely strolls down our regular route that lets them get some fresh air and “do their thing.” On those mornings I come inside feeling somewhat refreshed myself, ready to start the day.

Then there are mornings like today.

Mia the Newf is always nice and quiet in the mornings until she sees me brush my teeth and start reaching for my walking clothes. At that point she starts whining and pouting, as though I’ve kept her locked inside a room for days, unable to see the light of day. That whining continues until we’re actually walking out the door of the apartment and heading toward the outdoors. Max the Lab generally just follows along quietly, like a toddler sibling who doesn’t need to talk because the others are talking for him.

This morning the whining started early, and both dogs crowded my shadow out of the way so they could get closer. I literally tripped over Max while trying to get my shoes, and Mia used her big head three times to try to hurry them as I tried to tie the shoestrings. The second – seriously, the second – I opened the door the dogs were down the stairs in a shot, dragging me, holding tightly onto their tandem leash, precariously behind.

Mia

Once we hit the pavement, however, the rush was off. Suddenly they were Pokey Little Puppies, stopping to sniff every footprint, every “dog spot” and most especially those strange blades of grass sticking out of the four-day-old snow — an act made even more frustrating by the fact that they weren’t sniffing the same footprint, dog spot or grass blade at the same time. Two dogs on a tandem can create havoc for their owner when one is moving five feet west while the other heads three feet east.

The process is a start-and-stop walk that, when I’m not paying close attention, means at some point I’m ramming my knee into poor Max’s butt, which elicits a look from the dog that says, “Really? You had to knee my butt?”

Every sound they hear is a new adventure, Mia lifts her head and assumes the proud Newf stance and Max, at 11 years old, offers the obligatory bark – just one – that reminds me that he truly is turning into a grumpy old man, reminiscent of Walter Matthau in the movie by the same name. When Max offers his bark I imagine he’s saying, in his best Walter Matthau voice, “Get off my Earth!” (Because, after all, Max and Mia – in their own minds – are the only two dogs, and we’re the only humans, that should be within sight.)

The stopping and sniffing and marking and walking continues until it’s time for one of the two to “go” – at which point the other then marks the “go” point – and, not to be outdone, the first dog re-marks the initial “go” point. The cycle would continue, I’m sure, if I didn’t offer a slight tug, followed by, “Walk.”

Of course, this pattern is repeated when the other must “go” because, I guess, “marking” isn’t the same as “going” so the second dog must take his or her own turn.

Eventually we make it back home. They eat their breakfast and sleep the morning away.

I’m ready for a drink.

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Excuse me?

It’s amazing how easily things taken out of context can be pretty darned offensive.

The other day I came in late to work (the morning after taking my daughter to the ER). Not wanting to add to my tardiness by parking in my assigned lot and being at the mercy of the university’s Cambus I opted for the public parking ramp across from the hospital.

As I rode down the elevator (I didn’t want to delay my arrival by taking the stairs, either) I looked across the street at the survey crew preparing the area for eventual demolition and construction, and laughed at the construction orange-fenced area which was apparently a hole, as indicated by the spray-painted “Hole” on the plywood (I really should have taken a picture).

I was still chuckling about the sign when I crossed the street, until I heard a low whistle. I have to admit I smiled a little to myself because it’s been a while since anyone’s whistled at me. The whistle came again, this time followed by a low, “Spread your legs!”

What the hell?

I refused to turn my head – both because I didn’t want to acknowledge it and because I could only imagine the look on my face – when I heard it again.

“Spread your legs!”

I was just about to stop and lay into this crude and obnoxious oaf about sexual harassment when he yelled, “Dan! Spread the legs on your camera – I can’t get a signal!”

Oh yeah. SO glad I didn’t say anything …

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Mother knows best? Does it matter?

I apparently wasted three years of high school and two semesters in college learning to speak French. I should have found a class teaching Teen Girl Speak.

Most of the time my daughter – who is now 16 – communicate very well. Every now and then, however, some kind of polarized force goes up and all she seems to hear is, “Mwah mwah mwah.”

Last night was one of those nights. My daughter – I call her Teen Girl – came home from work at about 8:30 and told me she was having pains in her chest and difficulty breathing. In her defense, her breathing was labored and she looked a bit pale.

“When did this start?” Iasked.

“Tuesday, on my way to babysit.” (Tuesday? And I’m finding out on Thursday night?)

She described her pain: a sharp pain around her breastbone, going around under her ribs and up her back. The pain was really at its worst when she’d take a deep breath.

“It sounds like you’ve got a pulled muscle or something around your diaphragm. Take a couple ibuprofen and go rest, then we’ll see how you feel in an hour.” To be safe I took her pulse: 78 bpm, perfectly within the normal range.

That was around 8:30. She came back a little before 10.

“It still hurts,” she said.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad?”

“It’s a 7 or 8.” (OK, I love my daughter and hate that she was miserable, but at 7 or 8 I’d be in a heap on the floor.)

“Did you take the ibuprofen?”

“No, I didn’t want to.”

Hmm.

I’m not one to mess around with heart and lung issues, so I called the 24-hour nurse and gave her Teen Girl’s symptoms. “You’d better bring her in.”

So, at a little after 10 p.m. Teen Girl and I were headed to the ER.

Doctors and nurses were wonderful, they made sure she had a blanket and was comfortable, gave her the remote so she could watch TV. Over the course of three hours (yes, THREE hours) she had an EKG, a blood draw and gave a urine sample. The doctor in charge came in and explained that there might be a clot and if so, Teen Girl would need an IV for some reason or another (hey, I was tired – I paid attention when I needed to).

There were no clots, no heart issues, nothing that could be determined by the tests.

At about 1:30 the doctor came in and sat down next to Teen Girl. All the tests came back negative.

“It looks like you probably strained a muscle around your rib cage, near your diaphragm,” she told her. (Have we heard this before?)

Teen Girl just looked at me, then looked at the doctor.

“What should I do?”

(You already know what she told her …)

“Take some ibuprofen and get some rest.”

Mwah, mwah, mwaaaaah …

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There’s a name for that

It’s no secret that I’m a word snob. Whether you’ve known me for 10 years or 10 minutes, chances are pretty good you’ve been corrected, glared at or snubbed if you’ve used an incorrect word or mispronounced it in such a horrific manner it’s caused me pain.

Think I’m kidding? Ask my niece. She posted this on Facebook earlier this week: “I don’t want to go back to school tomarrow!” My response: “You need to go to school as least as long as it takes you to spell ‘tomorrow’ correctly.”

No one is exempt. I’ve mentioned this before, but the truest example is the poor soul who dared date me and then proceed to explain that he’s an aff-eh-KON-dee-oh of weapons. Huh? He meant aficionado, of course, but he looked at me, confused, when I giggled (I couldn’t help myself) and then proceeded to use the word again – three more times. That was our last date.

I’ve taken my fair share of taunting and ribbing, had several friends chide me when some silly person thought “ginormous” needed to be a word and I launched a verbal campaign against its use, and have even been scolded by my teenagers who, by default, have become word snobs-in-training. I’ve tried to relax, I really have.

Today I have been given justification – if not vindication – for the aforementioned word snobbery. It’s a disease.

Well, not a disease as much as a disorder. It’s called migraine disorder and it’s a lot like OCD, apparently.

I was visiting with a neurologist this morning to determine whether I had a much more serious disease (I don’t, thankfully, but spent the last two weeks thinking I did, thanks to an overzealous ER doctor and then family doctor) and learned that I do have a migraine disorder.

The doctor’s first question in making the diagnosis: “Are you a perfectionist when it comes to things like spelling, words, numbers?”

Um …

(Actually I thought he was kidding at first – I had corrected the physician assistant when she made a typo when entering my history, and I thought they got together to pull a prank …)

Take a look at my apartment, my desk or, God forbid, my car and you’ll see the OCD is not “Monk”-like – I do get bothered by a messy kitchen or newspapers strewn about, but right now my bedroom looks a bit like an episode of “Hoarders” (I blame that on the craziness of the weather – what do you pack away when it’s 55 degrees in January?). As the doc explained it, my OCD has more to do with words and letters and math and having to know why everything happens and how do you feel about it? My friends who have accused me of having to overanalyze everything will totally get that part …

So feel free to mock me all you want when I ask you to use the proper “your” or “you’re” when writing or beg you to remember that “could’ve” is a contraction for could have, not could of. If that makes you feel better, then have at it.

But I’ll still point out the error and give you a correction.

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Customer service? What customer service?

OK, call me a whiner, but it’s got to stop somewhere. I’m pissed off about the loss of customer service and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Somehow in the rush to grow bigger and better and offer more for customers in the name of competitive rivalry, some businesses have lost – or given up – the art of customer service. And really, it’s a shame.

Ask any independent contractor in sales – a Realtor, Mary Kay consultant, Tupperware, Pampered Chef or Tastefully Simple salesperson – and they’ll tell you referrals and repeat customers are the heart of their business. Sure, they can mine new customers every day, but by treating a customer well they have a better chance of getting word-of-mouth promotion. Which carries more weight with you when making a purchase decision – an ad purchased by someone who stands to profit from you taking them at their word, or someone you trust telling you they had a really good experience? Ads are important for businesses to get their names out there – but referrals are just as important for them to get their reputation out there.

In the last few weeks I’ve had several encounters with local businesses who could use a refresher course in customer service: an officer at a locally-owned bank was looking into something for me the week before Christmas and promised to call the next morning – I didn’t get to talk to anyone about the issue until three days later (after calling daily); I had a telephone conference set up with another businessman, arranged by his secretary, on a day that he was apparently on vacation; and a local pizzeria has buy one-get one coupons that are valid until Dec. 31, 2012 but because they just lowered their prices, they’re charging customers who use the coupon the old prices – which are $7 higher for a large pizza.

While there are hundreds of people across the country “occupying” different streets and raising awareness at political events, I am starting an protest of my own. I’m calling for the return of customer service.

Businesses aren’t wholly to blame, of course. In most cases we reward bad behavior – we tip the waitress who lets our water glass go empty and doesn’t come back to the table except to bring the check; we continue ordering from the places that deliver the foods we like best; we return to the gas station on the corner because it’s convenient, regardless of the fact that it may be dirty or the clerks are often on the phone or talking to each other rather than the customer.

Convenience has become more important than being treated well. In response, businesses stop making the extra effort – why should they? We apparently don’t need it.

Well, I need it. Or at least I want it. We deserve it – those are our hard-earned dollars going to help them keep their lights on, their furnaces hot and their phones working. Being courteous is the least they can do.

I am in the process of changing banks from the one I’ve used since I moved to eastern Iowa 10 years ago – the earlier incident wasn’t the first time I’ve come up against poor customer service there but it’s going to be the last. I’ve waged a Facebook quest with the pizza place to get them to acknowledge their service was lacking – they’ve made some responses but no real progress (the latest was a note from the owner asking me to call him – with no time or date listed – and yet when I did he wasn’t in and wouldn’t be until tomorrow).

My challenge to you is to join me. Stand up for your right to good service. Thank people when they do well, but don’t just take it when they don’t.

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New Year’s Resolutions? Hmph.

New Year’s resolutions are overrated.

Everyone posts grand plans for the new year – to lose weight, become more active in the community, save money, be smarter – and yet by about mid-February, the same time we’re buying Conversation Hearts and celebrating dead presidents, they’ve already fallen by the wayside. By June we’re wondering whatever happened and why we even bother.

My No. 1 resolution of last year was as it’s been for the last four years – to lose weight. My body either revolted or got confused and I ended the year a size larger than I started.

I also resolved to save more money and be more organized with my finances. That worked so well that I discovered in one month I had spent $300 at WalMart and Target on unnecessary things that added little to no value to my life. (Of course, box stores are evil so I partly blame the magnetic affect they have on me – I now drive out of the way around them to avoid that magnetic pull.)

Another goal of 2011 was to write a book. OK, that one was accomplished, making me three for three when it comes to years in which I’ve had a book contract. But because I’m an independent contractor when those contracts do come around there are no taxes taken out of my checks. Because I fail miserably at the saving money resolution, tax time means an IOU to the IRS – and you really don’t want to mess with those guys.

This year I’m making it easy: I resolve to get rid of junk.

All that extra “stuff” I let take up my time? It’s junk – and it’s gone. That garbage I continue to think about and never do anything about, either because I can’t or I won’t. Erased. And yeah, I’ll still address that junk in my trunk – hopefully this year with better results.

 

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