Friday, August 29, 2008

Treading Water

You'll find my name in here somewhere.

I'm about 10 days behind. Literally. Had hoped to move in on the 10th. Secured a place that was supposed to be ready on the 13th, then the 15th, then the 18th, then I finally said screw it and found another place to live, but by the time I did, and moved in on the 21st, I was 10 days behind where I needed to be. The ripples from that will last until October. Literally. So blogging will likely be light to non-existent for a while. Sorry.

Oh the stories I'll eventually tell though.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Ugly: When Blogspot Goes Bad

What was temporarily posted here yesterday was about one-third of a post that took hours to write. As such, it was incomplete and I've deleted it. What happened to the other two-thirds of probably the longest post I've written in a year . . . beats me. In the end, everything turns out okay. Maybe I'll eventually have time to re-write. Doubt it though. It was a purgative exercise. It worked. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be. It was funny, tragic, painful, and all ok by day's end. But it was, as I said to start with, a long story that I certainly don't have time to recreate now.

Best to all. Doc.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Bad: Jen, the "inaccessible" Realtor

I had every intention of naming names, complete with links, but Fate is kinder than yours truly, so Jen will be spared that for now.

I've already mentioned that I thought, briefly, on Saturday night last, that my search for a place to live in Charleston was finished. Of all the places I'd seen during the day, only one had merited the comment, in my semi-legible scrawl on the bottom of the MLS printout, "Could live here." That place, we had seen early in the day, about sixth or so on the list of places we'd visited.

From the beginning, we'd had no luck getting through to the listing agent, Jen. There was a lock box on the property, but a call to the listing agent is a common courtesy. No answer, but no big deal--courtesy was still satisfied. Until, that is, the combo for the lock box turned out not to work. More calls to Jen went unreturned. I walked around to the back of the townhome while Sue continued to try to reach Jen. Then, peering in the back window, I saw Sue walking through toward me. "The front door was unlocked," she said, as she let me in the back door. "Still nothing from Jen."

It was a great place though. (You can find photos of the neighborhood here, and you'll have no trouble seeing why my daughter thought it was way cool, the kind of place where it wouldn't be possible to forget you lived at the beach. "That other place [in Byrnes Downes] is more like living in Fayetteville," she quipped. 'Nuff said.) Three stories. (Floor plan here.) Living, dining, kitchen, half bath on the ground. Small, fully fenced, gated patio with small grass area in back for Sydni. Parking behind the building. Two bedrooms and two baths on the second floor, with a way cool balcony off the master. Easy to picture myself out there in the afternoon, reading in prep for the next day's classes, gin & tonic on the arm of an Adirondack chair. Then one more bedroom on a third floor. (It would be one more guest room. I didn't plan to cart my desk up all those stairs. More likely would be having the study as part of the main living area on the ground floor.)

The place still smelled new. Some people hate that smell. I always loved it. When I moved out of my first home in 1985, it still had that smell even after three years of me living in it. I especially loved the new smell considering that at least four of the places we'd seen earlier in the day had been inhabited by smokers. Blehhhhhh!

Anyway, I left the place after that initial viewing (my daughter was having a well-deserved morning of sleeping in), knowing that if I didn't find something closer in and less expensive, this, at least, would do. I could look forward to coming home to this every day. Balcony. Gin & tonic. Sunsets overlooking a lake. Yeah.

But it was the second farthest out from town of everything we looked at during the entire day. You could figure that a gallon or more of gas used each day, round trip, would add about $100 monthly to the cost of living there, already at the upper end of what I was willing to pay. So the search went on . . . all day.

Several times during the day, because we wanted to confirm that Sydni would be acceptable as a tenant, Sue continued to try to call Jen. Never any return calls. Later in the day, I called myself, both her mobile and her office number. Left messages. When, as the sun was setting, I drove back out with Jacquelyn to show her the neighborhood and she gave it a huge thumbs up, I tried yet again. Finally, I let Sue know I'd decided. This was it.

At that point, she began an even more intense effort to reach the listing agent, Jen. Phone, no response. E-mail, no response. In the end, she e-mailed the agency Broker. That worked. Minutes later, she got a call back from Jen. "I'm sorry. I've had guests in town and I haven't been very accessible today," is what Sue related to me was Jen's excuse. Excuse me? If that were my property, I'd be a little disappointed to learn that my Realtor was "inaccessible," ever, for an entire day without someone being really ill. Forward calls to another agent. To a central office. Somewhere!

Now I realize that everyone deserves to have a life. Even Inspector's General deserve a life. But guess what: some jobs require that you be accessible, or make arrangements for someone else to be so. Being an IG is one of those jobs. I should think that being a Realtor would be one as well. Apparently not though. At least, not for Jen.

It gets better though. If you've read the earlier post, you know that when she did call, it was to say that she'd offered a lease to someone the day before. Well, thank you so much! Had she been "accessible," she could have saved my Realtor a trip out there with me that morning. She could have saved us the 30 minutes spent walking through, imagining myself in it. She could have saved me and my daughter the trip back out there at the day's end. She could have saved me the false relaxation of thinking the search was over. She could have saved everyone a lot of trouble and time. She could have, in short, done her job. But no, her job, as she conceives it, apparently allows for inaccessibility when it suits her.

Like I said, I'd have no problem naming names here, but I've temporarily misplaced the MLS printout with her full name or the name of the listing agency. Maybe another day. Maybe an update. Maybe she should consider other work, as a favor to us all. Please.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm."

I'm inaugurating a new label for posts: "Things that make you go Hmmm." And to start things off right, here's what elicited that reaction today:

The handicap spaces at the grocery are closest to the door because, ostensibly, the handicapped patrons have mobility issues. (Of course, sometimes they're a little further away because the ramp onto the sidewalk is further from the door.) At the Food Lion in Sunset Beach however, all the parking is in a large lot separated from the store itself by the fire lane. So, the blue-marked handicap spaces are at the end of each row, as close to the door as you can get. Funny thing though: if you're handicapped, and you happen to use a shopping cart to get your groceries to the car, you'll need to venture another five or six spaces into the middle of the lot to properly return your cart. Hmmm. Or, you can just leave it in the handicapped space next door like a very elderly man I watched do so today. I would have too--even if I weren't worried about my younger wife driving off without me, which he probably was, since she didn't even wait for him to close the car door before she was backing that Caddy out of the space. Hmmm. >-)

The Good: Super 8 Motel, Nashville, TN

Spend three days crossing the country and there will be bright spots and potholes. Bright spots are more fun, so we're going to start with one of those.

I think of Super 8 Motels as being just one step above Motel 6. There is, after all, no Motel 7. Crossing the country alone, I used to make a habit of staying where they left the light on for me. Traveling with a family full of women, we usually opted for a Best Western or Days Inn. Coming across the country this time, and spending nights we hadn't really planned for on the road, I opted for economy in lodging. At least, so I thought. I am going to tell you, and my daughter would be happy to verify, that the Super 8 Motel at 720 Royal Parkway, just off I-40 at exit 216, has more in common with a Hampton Inn than a Motel pickanynumber.

It has to do, I suspect, with the Wyndham chain being the corporate overlord of the Super 8 brand. For the most part, I'm sold. Though I'm still not likely to re-visit the Super 8 in Asheville, NC, that caused me to associate them with Motel 6 to begin with. But that's not a pretty story, so we'll just skip it for now. :-)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sunset Gourmet, Sunset Beach, NC

New Yelp review posted for Sunset Gourmet. Great little place. Sat there for a while this afternoon and worked. Had lunch (shredded, sharp cheddar w Jalepenos, grilled on a ciabatta roll, homemade potato salad, dill pickle; dessert was a chocolate chip muffin with white icing and shredded coconut; beverage was dark coffee you could just hover over and breathe). Great people too. Then sat outside here after they closed and worked until my battery died and watched a few dozen people come up and try the door and go away disappointed. They close at 3, but not for lack of business. Everybody deserves a life. ;-)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

As I Lay Dying, Redux

I recently completed what had to be one of the most challenging trips I'll ever make, driving from Colorado Springs, home for the last four years, to Charleston, home for at least the next nine months. I made the trip driving my Jeep Grand Cherokee, towing a 6 x 12 U-Haul trailer, loaded to its recommended max weight. Following close behind was my teenage (for a few more months) daughter in her VW Beetle.

We'd made the trip in the opposite direction a few short months ago at the end of May, both of us in the Beetle. We made it in two and a half easy days. I anticipated that we'd be a little slower eastbound. I had no idea.

It wasn't possible to drive that trailer above 60 mph without it developing a mind of its own. I gradually learned how to dampen its contortions while slowing to a speed where it would settle into straight trail again, but, let me tell you, that was work. Hard work by the end of a long day on the road. And it was frequent, even at 60. So I didn't push it. Anything encouraged it. Uneven road. Big trucks with bigger bow waves. I was careful never to let it approach the point where it would be in the driver's seat, but I could sense that it would be happy to take that position if I ever pressed it. The result was long, slow, exhausting days. What had been two and a half, ten to twelve hour days westbound became three, solid, twelve to fifteen hour days eastbound. Plans to stay with friends had to be abandoned. We arrived in Charleston after midnight at the end of the day I'd planned to be there by lunch, already half a day behind in my search for a new place to live. (I had begun looking for a place to live at least a month before, but had given up hope of finding the right place before my arrival because the best ones, the ones I had any interest in, always rented within days. So, I resolved to keep an eye on what was available, but knew that really making a decision would require being there.)

After just four hours of sleep, I met the world's kindest Realtor (who, if I ever have the opportunity to buy a home in Charleston, has my business, hands down) at 0800 the next morning and began a long day of looking at houses, condos, townhomes, and apartments. I can never sufficiently repay her for that day. That search itself may be the topic of another post altogether. It could have been much more painful. It didn't seem painful at first. We narrowed it, by day's end, to two places. I finally chose one based on the fact that it was far more accommodating to visits from my daughters, especially the one in Wilmington, who would, I was sure, drive down several times with friends if I chose the one I did--opting, at the same price, for twice as much space, newly constructed and "beachy," vs the much closer in, half as large, nearly as old as my parents, but in the neighborhood everyone wants to be in (for the same reason everyone wants a Gold Card). Everyone except me and Billy Bob Thorton. It would be worth the drive, I explained, to be in a place my daughters would look forward to visiting--even for only nine months.

Anyway, called to tell the Realtor my decision, and she began to really press the other agent to return our calls. All day, from the initial showing, we'd been trying to reach her and not had our calls returned. Once I decided that was the place I wanted, the real press began. It finally took an e-mail to the other Realtor's broker. Result, delivered to me at dinner, finally relaxing with my daughter after the long day of searching: it rented the day before. Back to square one. Especially when my daughter said, "Don't take the old one. That's not where you're supposed to be."

So, Sunday morning, the search continued. On my own this time. After looking at a house only blocks from the Citadel, I decided to drive by a place I'd discounted early on because of the lack of a yard. Almost instantly, Jackie started nodding yes. Only a few more blocks from the Citadel, it was, for all practical purposes, new. I can't imagine what was left of the original building other than the frame itself and the stairs. One building, four apartments, two up, two down, with interior entrances from a central foyer. New brick facade exterior, new walls, new floors, new ceilings, wiring, pipes, cabinets, counters, appliances, etc. Seriously, I can't imagine what other than the frame and the stairs is original. Off street, gated parking on oyster-shell lot, common area w gazebo, grill, bar.

My daughter had said at dinner the night before, "Don't worry. That place (the one I thought I'd settled on) is rented because that's not where you're supposed to be either. There's a better place waiting. You'll see." The kid is clairvoyant. Less monthly rent, more space, walking distance to work, virtually new construction, and new construction in a class nothing else had approached (new hardwood floors, new stainless appliances, granite counters, all stone tile bath (of the sort my airline captain friend used in constructing his 6000 sq-ft "captain's house"), chair molding throughout the main living area. So I'll have to walk Sydni several times a day. Big deal. We'd started that already anyway. Good for both of us. And easy to do when you can walk to work in ten minutes.

So, happy ending to the house search. Only hitch, the two finished units were, of course, already rented. But the site supervisor promised one of the remaining units would be done by this Wednesday. "I guarantee it." Watching him work, on Sunday no less, I chose to believe him. I still do. We'll see. At any rate, I signed a lease.

All of this, of course--especially the happy ending--would seem to belie the title of this post. Trust me. Stay tuned. I'll get around to some of the other adventures that kept giving me flashbacks to images of a mule's four stiff legs rotating into the air as its bloated corpse floats by on the flood (unless I mis-remember my Faulkner). Eventually, I hope to have time for a good, bad, and ugly post of some of the "highlights" of this journey.

I'll say this up front though. Beyond good, beyond beautiful, beyond completely irreplaceable, has been the company of my oldest daughter. I've missed my youngest every step of the way, but I've been cheered throughout by the older of the two. We have similar tastes in most things, similar wit, similar peeves. We've laughed, stewed, and generally had a grand time, despite trials beyond any I would have willingly put her through. She's been a trooper of the most remarkable kind, never complaining. This is the daughter who sulked for a solid year after we moved the family to Fayetteville, NC, back in 2002. This nomadic odyssey? Nothing but good cheer, tolerance, always a step ahead when I needed help, fun. Fun even when everything else around us was anything but. As a result, for all its "just shoot me" moments, it'll be fun to look back on and remember. Always.

UPDATE: My new place will be ready Monday. Meanwhile, there's a park bench I've had my eye on just outside the gate to the Citadel. Doesn't get more convenient than that. Sydni will keep watch.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Back in the Land of "Ya'll"

One of my most vivid memories from one of the most vivid expenditures of however many lives I seem to have is climbing out from under my totaled 1975 Carmine Red Spitfire, upside down in a field of corn in eastern North Carolina in 1983, brushing the dust from my shoulders and hair, staring at the underbelly of my car and thinking, "Who can I get to help me turn this thing right side up so I can drive on back to Goldsboro--I've got to fly tomorrow" (never mind that the rear wheels were almost touching in the middle, the point of impact with the telephone pole having been about even with those rear wheels, except about three-quarters of the way through a roll) then turning to walk out of the field and being greeted immediately by a middle-aged, African-American woman of substantial girth, arms raised in praise, eyes wide and white and shifting between God's heaven and the ghost I suspect she thought she saw before her, and voice proclaiming for a now gathering crowd (I'd taken my time crawling out from under that totaled shell, taking inventory of limbs to make sure everything moved and was still attached--something I'd learned from having read Fleming's entire Jame's Bond series over the past year while killing time on nuclear alert waiting for WWIII), "HE'S ALIVE! HE'S ALIVE! PRAISE GOD ALMIGHTY HE'S ALIVE!"

I remember smiling warmly, struck by the enthusiasm of her earnest rejoicing at my fate, then asking politely, "I don't suppose ya'll might have a phone I could use?"

The rest of that story I'll save for another day, but I've told that much because her voice keeps echoing in my head today. My own inner voice keeps paraphrasing her chorus, but the enthusiasm matches her pitch just perfectly, "HE'S BACK! HE'S BACK! PRAISE GOD ALMIGHTY HE'S BACK!" Back in the land of "ya'll," the land of pine, azaleas, dogwoods, sundresses, 30-second-shirt-soaking humidity, red clay, cotton, soy beans, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Doobie Brothers, Charlie Daniels, and Jack too. Home. Slightly off target perhaps, landing here in Charleston, South Carolina, rather than 3 hrs north, nearer Kannapolis, North Carolina, but closer than a lot of Soviet re-entry vehicles I think, and close enough that the language is the same, the customs much the same, the heritage much the same.

Charleston will have its own character that I may never fully understand--I got that much (and more) from Conroy, but this is still the South, with a capital S. And the differences from place to place in the South stand out far more starkly to someone who's never left it than to someone who's been too much out of it in the past three decades. I see far more similarity across its regions than I ever might have if I'd never left.

So, I'm back. And tomorrow, with the aid of a truly incredible Realtor, I hope to find the right place to live for a bit--nine months at least, while I fill a position as a Visiting Professor at the Citadel--longer maybe, depending on what fortunes the coming year brings. One step at a time.

I'll say this though, coming in those last 20 miles, I found the FM station that became the first new preset on my car stereo. Q104.5, Charleston's Classic Rock, is the clearest station I've ever heard. Ever. I'm nearing half a century. That station must broadcast with enough power to reach nearby galaxies. Classic tunes, crystal clear. I'd been three of the longest days ever on the road, pulling a six-by-twelve-foot trailer heavy enough not to like traveling faster than 60 mph without developing a mind of its own. Last time I'd crossed the country at that speed it was in that Spitfire and I was busting the national speed limit by 5 mph at the time. Having grown used to speeds closer to 80 mph on long trips, I'd forgotten how long such a road trip really can be. (And I have to offer a hat tip here to my teenage daughter who dropped out of warp to follow that trailer at that crawling pace in the same VW Beetle that the two of us had used to make the same trip in only two days heading the other direction only two months ago. Just another half day longer and they have needed to commit us both.) So when I was moving through the dial, looking for static so as to listen to an Audible book from my Palm Treo broadcast on FM, I was stopped in my tracks by the clarity of the sound, then riveted by the appropriateness of the words, as Bob Seger voiced my very thoughts, "And you don't feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through."

That was my welcome to Charleston around 1 a.m. this morning. About the time I was thinking, "This trip almost is through," and about the time I was hearing that big, beautiful, booming, woman's voice in my head, and thinking, "Yes. Yes. Yes. Praise God Almighty indeed. He's back."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

When You Think of It That Way . . .

Last night I was enjoying what will be one of the final evenings on my front porch with the friend who's really taught me the most about appreciating a good cigar. It was one of those windless nights after a sweltering day, but it was cool enough to be comfortable. He usually brings along whatever book he's enjoying at the moment. These days, one of the three books I'm reading (always at least that many at once) is The Art of Racing in the Rain, a recommendation I got from the same friend about a month ago when we met for breakfast.

Last night, he brought along Merle's Door, another book centered on dogs (The Art of Racing in the Rain is narrated by a dog). When I asked how he learned of Merle's Door, he replied that he'd read about it in Bark, "my dog magazine."

"Let me get this straight: You don't own a dog, but you subscribe to a dog magazine?"

Without even a blush, he nodded and said, "Yeah."

Then I thought about it for a second. I remembered that there were plenty of months in college and immediately after that I'd not had a girl friend, or even the prospect of a date. Yet, the entire time, my best friend and I made a birthday tradition of giving one another subscriptions to Hugh Hefner's monthly celebration of "the girl next door." I said as much to my friend, and then said, "So, when you think of it that way, I guess if you love dogs there's really nothing odd about subscribing to a dog magazine even when you can't claim the daily companionship of one."

That said though, as my friend is just beginning what promises to be a contentious divorce, I will worry about him if he subscribes to Modern Bride any time soon.