Thursday, October 27, 2005

Next stop - pit crew

I have never been good with cars. Driving them, fixing them, maintaining them, at times, even paying for them. Bad, bad, bad and bad. About the only automotive-related area I've shown any real skill at is remaining calm and under control when a tire blows out on my car on the highway, although even this probably has some inverse relation to my being bad at maintaining cars.

The whole car-tire-blowing-out-on-the-highway thing has happened to me, I think, three times. Each time it happened, I heard a loud band and then calmly proceeded to pull my car over to the side of the highway without causing any further damage to myself or the drivers around me. The first time I blew out a tire, I wasn't quite sure what happened, but I knew that car plus loud bang equaled bad.

The second time this happened, I was getting pretty damned experience. Bang! Chunka-chunka-chunka. Hey, I thought, my tire blew out again. How about that. Slowly steer the car to the side of the highway.

Now, for the first two tire blow-outs, this is where my part of the story ended. If I had a little more pride or a little more mechanical skill, I probably would have tried to change the tire and put on the spare myself. But, lacking both pride and mechanical skill, I patiently waited behind the steering wheel until help arrived, changed the tire, and sent me on my way.

But the third time, the third time, oh, foolish pride.

Begins with the standard routine. Bang, chunka, chunka, chunka, pull over safely to the side of the highway. But this time, I will not wait patiently. This time, I will be a man's man and CHANGE THE TIRE!

Big mistake? Well, actually, no. I cursed and strained and struggled and kicked at the wheel, but damnit, I got the wheel and tire off, successfully attached the spare, and headed to Kelly Tire to get a new tire.

Leaving the blown-out tire, and my wheel, on the side of Rte. 128, northbound. It did not dawn on me that this would be a problem.

So I pull into Kelly Tire, tell them what happened, pick out a reasonably placed new tire, and start to get a sneaking feeling that I may have messed something up. Hmmm, when I get a new tire, do they attach a whole new wheel? Looking around the tire showroom, I start to suspect that this isn't the case. Still, I sit in the waiting room, have the mechanics take the car into the garage, and...

About 15 minutes later, the service manager comes to me and asks me where the wheel is.

"We looked in the trunk and couldn't find it," he said.

"So," I said, "do you have new wheels you can put on for me?"

I'm told that if I wanted a new wheel, I would have to go across the Lynnway to the salvage yard and shell out another $100 for what was already an unforeseen expense.

"Ummmm," I said. "I'll be right back."

Back my car out of the driveway, head back to Rte. 128, southbound, turn around at the exit just pass where I had my latest tire incident, head up Rte. 128, northbound, hazard lights on, in the breakdown lane, looking for my wheel. Luckily enough, no scavengers have been scouring the side of the highway for used car parts, I find the wheel, and throw it in the backseat of my car, drive back to Kelly Tire, tell them, hey look, here's my wheel, and get a new tire.

Since then, all of my tires have stayed in one piece. But if I ever have a blowout again, damnit, I will know how to change the tire, and, damnit, I will remember to save the wheel.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Every 97 seconds, a caffeine addict is born

Today I'm taking a short break from my intermittent history of my checkered work history in order to provide you with a minor rant on an insignificant subject.

Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Now, I'm not upset about the coffee. In fact, the coffee fills a specific need, and over the past decade, Dunkin Donuts franchises have multiplied at a blinding rate in order to fill this need.

Dunkin Donuts provides good, not great, hot coffee that is always fresh, always drinkable. Other coffee chains may have better coffee, but odds are, that coffee shop isn't on the corner of your street. Odds are, Dunkin Donuts is. And if that coffee shop with better coffee is in your sights, and it's not first thing in the morning, odds are that the better coffee has been sitting in a nondescript thermal carafe for who knows how long, making the better coffee not quite as good as it once was when it was fresh coffee. Given the high volume of customers at Dunkin Donuts, it's unlikely that any pot of coffee there lasts for more than 97 seconds, even if it's 2 a.m.

So what's the problem? Good, hot, fresh coffee on every corner at any hour. The problem happens when Dunkin Donuts gets spooked by the Starbucks reflection in the rear view mirror every year or two and decides it has to get all fancy schmancy with the product line.

A couple of years ago, this resulted in the unfortunate Coolatta crusade. Dunkin Donuts shoots some flavored coffee syrup into a plastic container of crushed ice, charges $4 a pop, and calls it a day. I tried these travesties a couple of times, I swear, I really gave them the benefit of the doubt. But it was a false-starter. Lucky if the flavor lasted for more than a third of the cup before you ended up sucking on shaved ice for your $4.

Then there was the vanilla chai experiment. I found this slightly more successful, if only because the chai was so incredibly sweet, every time I drank one, the sugar rush would last for at least half of the day. After that, Dunkin Donuts made a direct attack on the lifeblood of Starbucks, espresso, lattes, and cappucinos.

This was likely their biggest disaster to date.

The general strategy of this campaign was to replace the snootiness of the Starbucks barristas with the general confusion of the average Dunkin Donuts employee who has been asked to make nothing more complicated that a medium regular ever since the first store first opened its doors. Quickest way to make your self an unpopular man? Try ordering a nonfat medium latte early in the morning at a Dunkin Donuts while you have a full construction crew behind you trying to get their iced coffees and munchkins for the job site.

At least the latest Dunkin Donuts plan doesn't consume as much time in line, but once again, the chain is convinced that it has to do something more than what it does best. Dunkin Donuts has always had flavored coffees, but now it seems to be putting its money on something called flavorology and mystic matches. I don't care that if I like french vanilla coffee that my "mystic match" is blueberry upside down cake. You've got me with your coffee, just like you have the rest of New England, and probably soon, the world.

So stop fretting about all the upscale competition and just keep those fresh pots coming every 97 seconds.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Fear of phoning

At my first professional job (as opposed to my first job, see post below) I had an inordinate fear of using the telephone. Got to make a call, gotta call people I don't know, need to make this call by the end of the day. Sit and state at the phone. Pick up the phone. Pretend to dial the phone. State at the phone some more. Dial the number and then hang up quickly.

Since my first professional job was as a newspaper reporter, this particular phobia put just a little bit of a crimp in the performance of my duties. As a reporter, you need quotes. To get quotes, you need to talk to people. To talk to people, you need to dial . . . well you get the picture.

I've always been able to hold my own with the written word, but being an assertive go-getting type was not my strong suit right out of college. I was afraid that if I called people - that I might be bothering them, that they might not like me, that they might say something mean to me, that they might, that they might, well, anyway, I spent a lot of time sitting at my desk, approaching a cold sweat, staring at the telephone.

Yet somehow I managed. I would make the calls, I would talk to people, and they would hardly ever be mean to me and I would get the stories I needed into the paper for the week.

And then the next week would role around, more stories to write, more phone calls to make. Damn telephone mocking me. Until one day, picking up the phone wasn't so bad anymore. How did this happen? Partly, I left newspapers to take a job that required a lot more telephoning and where many people probably did find my calls truly annoying.

So now, safely back in the world of newspapers, the telephone is, if not exactly my best friend, at least more than a passing acquaintance. Calls to make, fingers are dialing. No one home? Call again. Still no answer? Get the cell phone number.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Stickboy and Mustache Guy

No one expects their first job to last forever, but most people probably expect that it will last longer than three hours. Not for me, though. My first job at Shaw's Furniture in bustling downtown Middleboro lasted all of three hours, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on a single Saturday morning.

I wasn't even fired. At the end of the day, I was given a check for $12, and I was never asked to come back.

Even though the job only lasted for three hours, the morning felt like it lasted forever. I've had jobs that have lasted for months, even years, that felt like they flew by faster than my time at Shaw's furniture.

The major factor holding me back from a successful career in a furniture showroom? Apparently, I was expected to help make furniture deliveries. At the age of 14 and weighing all of 125 pounds, this was probably not the type of job that would pop up in the top 100 if I were to have taken a career placement test. Being tall and gangly, about the only advantage I had in the furniture moving business was that I was so skinny, I probably could have squeezed myself around some pretty tight corners. I would have had to have been carrying something pretty light, but I'm pretty sure I could have fit through some pretty small openings.

So I show up at Shaw's Furniture, 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and meet Mr. Shaw, who looks like a slightly more severe version on Tom Bosley on Happy Days, sweater vest and all. For my first task, me and the store's truck driver will be delivering a mattress and box spring to a home in Lakeville. Okay. Now my co-worker is an older guy. Maybe as old as 25. And he freakin' works for a living. Now he wasn't exactly a huge guy, but he looked like he could move furniture. And he had a mustache. So we drive to Lakeville and I'm pretty sure we don't talk much. I mean the guy has a mustache and works for a living and I'm just a kid that my parents are trying to get out of the house on a Saturday morning.

So we get to the house in Lakeville to deliver the mattress and boxspring, Stickboy and Mustache Guy. So do we make two trips, each of us carrying an end of the mattress and then repeating the process with the box spring? Hell no! Mustache Guy grabs the box spring and points me in the direction of the mattress. Now at the time, I didn't really realize, because I didn't want to be lifting anything on my own, but mattresses are a hell of a lot more of a pain in the ass to move than box springs. So MG goes through the door first, whistling right along with the boxspring, while I'm huffing along behind with the mattress, struggling mightily to avoid hitting lamps, pets, or small children.

Somehow, I managed to get the mattress in the door and safely though a doorway or two. The bedroom had to have been somewhere nearby. No such luck. MG was heading down the basement stairs. I was taking the mattress down a flight of stairs. Mustering what little strength was left in my bony body, I safely finagled the mattress to the bottom of the stairs with a minimum of damage to both the plaster walls and my spine.

Me and MG head back to the furniture store, where I spend the remainder of the day performing a series of fairly meaningless and random acts. I didn't help any customers, but this was due to the fact that no customers actually came through the door on that Saturday morning. Even in the days before the big box furniture stores with giant screen movie theaters, Shaw's didn't exactly have a leg up on the competition. Egger's was the undisputed king of the Middleboro furniture stores and Kahian's was able to slice out a nice little business for itself on the west side of town.

This left me with a Saturday morning with Mr. Shaw where I was charged with filling his coffee cup with water so he could moisten stamps. I was also sent down to the basement of the store to find a box for a piece of stereo equipment. I succeeded in getting the coffee cup filled with water but failed miserably on my stereo box quest. MG had to bail me out on that one. It didn't help that the basement looked like it had been ransacked by looters, but MG was able to climb over a small mountain of overturned ottomans and find the box balancing precariously on top of a case of knockoff Tiffany Lamps.

The short remainder of my morning was spent ducking in and out of the rows of recliners and dinette sets with a feather duster. At noon, I took my $12 check from Mr. Shaw, cashed it at Middleboro Savings Bank (the Piper People) and went to buy a Blue Oyster Cult live cassette at Benny's. And I never saw Mustache Guy again.