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Our NW Trip, or "Sorry, Amtrak" [Jul. 4th, 2015|07:35 am]
Gary Emenitove
When I was a little boy I was fascinated by trains.  Now as an older person I still am fascinated by trains.  I like watching them -- big trains, light rail, streetcars/interurban, model railroads, pretty much all of them.  I do not mind being stopped by a train, not at all.  I think travel by rail is fun, relaxing, and a positive alternative to flying or driving.  I like riding trains.

When I can, that is. Amtrak has now nudged me closer to the column "I'll never ride (Amtrak) again" and I never before thought I'd be writing those words.

Months ago, we began planning this year's Big Vacation.  It was to be centered around the dates of the Unitarian Universalist's (our church) General Assembly (GA), this year in Portland, Oregon.  Portland is one of two cities (the other being Seattle) we've spoken of moving or retiring to for a long time, so GA being there seemed a logical vacation choice.  That, plus visiting some dear friends and seeing a cousin I had not seen in a long time sealed the deal.

As is our style, we began planning early.  Hotel bookings, check.  Car rental where needed, check.  Alerting friends to our impending visit, check.  Transportation...well now, the Pacific Northwest has LOTS of trains!  We chose to fly out (there's a nonstop from Omaha to Seattle) and train back (remember that fact).  We also included a train from Seattle to Portland, some planned streetcar time in Seattle and lots of light rail time in Portland.  (Note to Mr. Hal Daub of Omaha: as far as I'm concerned (along with Portland and Seattle) light rail and streecars are NOT the same.)

The flight out was great -- the nonstop Omaha to Seattle made a world of difference.  Spent quality time with good friends and family, including my cousin and his wife whom I have not seen in nearly 40 years!  Plus friends Don, Clark, Janna, and others.  We dined, went to several events, and had great conversation.

M and I wanted to visit the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) which strongly advised not driving but instead taking the South Lake Union Streetcar (formerly known as South Lake Union Trolley until they figured out the flaw in that name).  Unfortunately, either their ticket machine was on the fritz or these two hayseeds from Nebraska could not figure it out, so we were unable to get tickets, hence unable to ride the streetcar, hence unable to visit MOHAI.

After our time in Seattle, we took the train to Portland.  Arrived in Portland, took Light Rail to our hotel (Again please note, Mr. Daub, that Light Rail and Streetcar/Trolley are not the same).  Spent nearly a week attending portions of GA and associated events, plus visited dear friends in Portland who are relatives of Jay Lake.  More delicious dining ensued.  We visited Jay's memorial too, as well as other parts of Portland.

Our Portland hotel had shaky Internet service, so we had to improvise.  That's okay with me -- I check Internet and email far less on vacation than when I'm at home.  But M needed the Internet for some tasks related to classes he's taking, and subscribed to a paid Internet option to get better service.  Our last morning of the trip -- the day we were to board the train home -- I logged into email.  OMG...A MESSAGE FROM AMTRAK ALERTING US THAT OUR RETURN CONNECTING TRAIN HAD BEEN CANCELED!  The message had been sent just hours before, but had I not checked email we would not have known.  No phone call to my cell, no text, and as I found out later, no phone call to home.  Just a last-minute email.

I cannot emphasize how upsetting this was.  Sure, we've had flights and other things canceled before.  But we had reserved a room on the train long before.  Amtrak had all my contact info (I just checked -- it's in my profile).  There is not "another train coming along shortly" -- these trains are daily with rooms booked up months earlier.

I called Amtrak and received some of the worst customer "service" of this trip.  "Well, sir, we operate on tracks owned by the freight railroads and have no control over service changes."  Straight out of the script.  No sympathy.  No suggested reroutes -- we later looked them up and OTHER TRAINS FROM PORTLAND TO THE MIDWEST WERE RUNNING via different routes, but that would have taken THINKING and HELPFULNESS, neither of which the agent exhibited.

We asked for a refund and had to be escalated to another department.  Then, because we now had  time on our hands, we went to Union Station to speak personally with an agent.  She said there had not been a refund issued, so she did so.  We asked if -- when we boarded the train from Portland to the canceled connecting train -- they would have alerted us, she didn't think so.  Another nail in the coffin, their system doesn't look at the entire trip, only the current portion.  So we would have been put on a train to California, where we'd arrive with no connecting train, no hotel, and no idea what to do.  THAT'S Amtrak customer service.

I had blue smoke coming out my ears.  I've spent decades suggesting that friends try taking the train.  Oh, sure, it's often late (by hours) and they shouldn't make plans for when they'd arrive, but it's fun.  Oh sure, many of the railcars are in awful shape (largely because of funding problems) but it's an adventure -- bring duct tape and WD-40, as i say.  Oh sure, it takes hours or days longer to get there than flights, but think of the LEG ROOM.  America needs trains.  Write your Representative!

But if this is how Amtrak treats its long-suffering customers, by not giving adequate warning of a change, by not trying to phone or text,  by not automatically offering an alternative route OR parhaps overnight accommodations OR perhaps a flight, by not appearing to care...well, the train has left this station.  I'm afraid it's going to take me awhile, if ever, to come down from this one.  AND I'M ONE OF THEIR "SUPPORTERS."

I almost want to write my Representative and say "Remember all those letters from me?  Well, forget 'em."

Yes, we got home, thanks to superior effort by M to get us on a flight.  But the end of this vacation -- which otherwise was quite relaxing and fun -- was NOT to take the long-planned train trip.  And that left a sour taste in our mouths.
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Our Trip, or "Sorry, Amtrak" [Jul. 3rd, 2015|05:00 pm]
Gary Emenitove
When I was a little boy I was fascinated by trains.  Now as an older person I still am fascinated by trains.  I like watching them -- big trains, light rail, streetcars/interurban, model railroads, pretty much all of them.  I do not mind being stopped by a train, not at all.  I think travel by rail is fun, relaxing, and a positive alternative to flying or driving.  I like riding trains.

When I can, that is. Amtrak has now nudged me closer to the column "I'll never ride (Amtrak) again" and I never before thought I'd be writing those words.

Months ago, we began planning this year's Big Vacation.  It was to be centered around the dates of the Unitarian Universalist's (our church) General Assembly (GA), this year in Portland, Oregon.  Portland is one of two cities (the other being Seattle) we've spoken of moving or retiring to for a long time, so GA being there seemed a logical vacation choice.  That, plus visiting some dear friends and seeing a cousin I had not seen in a long time sealed the deal.

As is our style, we began planning early.  Hotel bookings, check.  Car rental where needed, check.  Alerting friends to our impending visit, check.  Transportation...well now, the Pacific Northwest has LOTS of trains!  We chose to fly out (there's a nonstop from Omaha to Seattle) and train back (remember that fact).  We also included a train from Seattle to Portland, some planned streetcar time in Seattle and lots of light rail time in Portland.  (Note to Mr. Hal Daub: as far as I'm concerned (along with Portland and Seattle) light rail and streecars are NOT the same.)

The flight out was great -- the nonstop Omaha to Seattle made a world of difference.  Spent quality time with good friends and family, including my cousin and his wife whom I have not seen in nearly 40 years!  Plus friends Don, Clark, Janna, and others.  We dined, went to several events, and had great conversation.

M and I wanted to visit the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) which strongly advised not driving but instead taking the South Lake Union Streetcar (formerly known as South Lake Union Trolley until they figured out the flaw in that name).  Unfortunately, either their ticket machine was on the fritz or these two hayseeds from Nebraska could not figure it out, so we were unable to get tickets, hence unable to ride the streetcar, hence unable to visit MOHAI.

After our time in Seattle, we took the train to Portland.  Arrived in Portland, took Light Rail to our hotel (Again please note, Mr. Daub, that Light Rail and Streetcar/Trolley are not the same).  Spent nearly a week attending portions of GA and associated events, plus visited dear friends in Portland who are relatives of Jay Lake.  More delicious dining ensued.  We visited Jay's memorial too, as well as other parts of Portland.

Our Portland hotel had shaky Internet service, so we had to improvise.  That's okay with me -- I check Internet and email far less on vacation than when I'm at home.  But M needed the Internet for some tasks related to classes he's taking, and subscribed to a paid Internet option to get better service.  Our last morning of the trip -- the day we were to board the train home -- I logged into email.  OMG...A MESSAGE FROM AMTRAK ALERTING US THAT OUR RETURN CONNECTING TRAIN HAD BEEN CANCELED!  The message had been sent just hours before, but had I not checked email we would not have known.  No phone call to my cell, no text, and as I found out later, no phone call to home.  Just a last-minute email.

I cannot emphasize how upsetting this was.  Sure, we've had flights and other things canceled before.  But we had reserved a room on the train long before.  Amtrak had all my contact info (I just checked -- it's in my profile).  There is not "another train coming along shortly" -- these trains are daily with rooms booked up months earlier.

I called Amtrak and received some of the worst customer "service" of this trip.  "Well, sir, we operate on tracks owned by the freight railroads and have no control over service changes."  Straight out of the script.  No sympathy.  No suggested reroutes -- we later looked them up and OTHER TRAINS FROM PORTLAND TO THE MIDWEST WERE RUNNING via different routes, but that would have taken THINKING and HELPFULNESS, neither of which the agent exhibited.

We asked for a refund and had to be escalated to another department.  Then, because we now had  time on our hands, we went to Union Station to speak personally with an agent.  She said there had not been a refund issued, so she did so.  We asked if -- when we boarded the train from Portland to the canceled connecting train -- they would have alerted us, she didn't think so.  Another nail in the coffin, their system doesn't look at the entire trip, only the current portion.  So we would have been put on a train to California, where we'd arrive with no connecting train, no hotel, and no idea what to do.  THAT'S Amtrak customer service.

I had blue smoke coming out my ears.  I've spent decades suggesting that friends try taking the train.  Oh, sure, it's often late (by hours) and they shouldn't make plans for when they'd arrive, but it's fun.  Oh sure, many of the railcars are in awful shape (largely because of funding problems) but it's an adventure -- bring duct tape and WD-40, as i say.  Oh sure, it takes hours or days longer to get there than flights, but think of the LEG ROOM.  America needs trains.  Write your Representative!

But if this is how Amtrak treats its long-suffering customers, by not giving adequate warning of a change, by not trying to phone or text,  by not automatically offering an alternative route OR parhaps overnight accommodations OR perhaps a flight, by not appearing to care...well, the train has left this station.  I'm afraid it's going to take me awhile, if ever, to come down from this one.  AND I'M ONE OF THEIR "SUPPORTERS."

I almost want to write my Representative and say "Remember all those letters from me?  Well, forget 'em."

Yes, we got home, thanks to superior effort by M to get us on a flight.  But the end of this vacation -- which otherwise was quite relaxing and fun -- was NOT to take the long-planned train trip.  And that left a sour taste in our mouths.
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Vision-related reading help wanted [Mar. 12th, 2015|08:28 am]
Gary Emenitove
Some of you who may know that my eyesight has in general been causing me grief the past couple of years.  After a series of eye operations over the past decade it turns out that my tear-producing and processing equipment is frequently malfunctioning.  So, in a typical day, I can go from near-perfect (for me) vision to a "I can't read the computer screen" day.

And in that last sentence is the relevant word: READ.

I used to be a fairly regular reader of many things.  But since the eye problems began, I've all but given up on much reading, except on the screen where I can enlarge the type if necessary to read it.  As you can imagine, that is tedious, because only so many LARGE words fit on the screen, and scrolling, both down and left-to-right, gets to be tiresome.  Plus, reading a screen for long periods of time exacerbates the dry-eye problem.

(Yes, I'm on artificial tears.  Yes, I'm taking Re$ta$i$.  Yes, I see my eye doctor -- at least 3-4 times a year.  Yes, I rest my eyes.)

I'm looking for suggestions -- preferably personal experiences -- with medications, herbal remedies, relaxation techniques, reading devices, anything successfully used if you (or someone you know) has a similar vision problem.  I'm hoping to get back to reading more, because I miss it.  (I have a stack of books here that I haven't tackled because I get through a page or two and the vision goes pffffft.)

Suggestions?  Thanks!
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From those of us behind the scenes [Nov. 13th, 2014|06:15 am]
Gary Emenitove
...speaking as one who worked for years in the "backrooms" of radio, not on the air
...speaking as one who worked many a stage show in the tech booth and backstage
...speaking as a life-long introvert, who likes people but really prefers to be by himself

...I have a special sadness on the death of Carol Ann Susi, one of the more famous behind-the-scenes voices on popular commercial television.  (I'm gonna make you look her up if you don't know who she is.)  And yeah, just a little bit, her character reminded me of my own mother.

We will miss your voice and your talents.
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Academic advisor [Nov. 7th, 2014|02:18 pm]
Gary Emenitove
M and I were chatting about academic advisors in school.  I don't remember any of mine!  Except, vaguely, the first I had in college.  And I don't really remember her, only something about her.

Her name was Barb (something) -- I can'r remember her last name, although I was sure it would come to me.  I visited with her shortly after entering college.  I wasn't particularly impressed with what she had to offer (and perhaps the feeling was mutual).  I left her office thinking THAT was a waste of time.

Then I returned to my dorm.  At dinner with some new friends and dormmates, I told them Barb was my advisor.  Several of them exclaimed "BARB??  THE ONE WITH THE BIG HOOTERS?!?!"  I blinked and probably said "I guess so."  (Then, as now, that particular part of the female anatomy was not particularly of interest to me.  I wasn't sure why that was, back then.  I understand much better now.)

In my next meeting with Barb, I made a point to check out her...er...equipment.  I'm sure she was quite used to all the male students doing that.

And that's all I remember about Barb.

Jay Lake would have loved this story.
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Too good not to share [Oct. 30th, 2014|06:13 am]
Gary Emenitove
Cross-posting from M...



Some things Shoud Just Never be Automated




Mark


elusivem


October 29th, 18:59


I received a letter today from Chase regarding a mortgage loan. It was not addressed to me, but was written by Chase in response to me letting them know mom and dad are now both deceased. It reads as follows:

"Dear Glen and Judith,

We have been notified [that you are] deceased. We understand that this may be a difficult time for you and we are here to assist you in any way we can.  You should continue making mortgage payments...Again we know this may be a difficult time and were here to help. If you have any question please call us

Sincerely

Chase"

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Omaha Public Radio [Sep. 20th, 2014|12:04 pm]
Gary Emenitove
I am becoming increasingly unhappy with our local NPR affiiate.  Oh, I completely enjoy the NPR programming they provide, but for years -- and even more, lately -- I've winced at nearly every local insert they speak.  Many are not well-written, most sound as if the announcer is trying to cram too many words into the alloted time, and few make me feel as though they are speaking to me.  And the latter is the very heart and soul of what radio is all about.

I am normally placated by listening to any number of distant NPR stations rather than the local one -- usually online, but some are accessible via radio.  Still, I know my support for the local station is important, and I am a regular donor.  But I wish they would improve what they do.

I don't know how to approach this other than mumbling to myself.  Surely the radio professionals there know the problem -- unless (as I sometimes wonder) they've been around too long and are just sailing towards retirement.  The station is owned by the School District, and I suspect there may also be some politics involved.  Somebody doesn't want to ruffle feathers, or some political muckety-muck likes things just as they are.  I don't think it's an issue of money since the announcers read what's given to them; it's a matter of better management.

It makes Omaha sound bad.  And this city has a history of some great radio and TV, so I know more is achievable.
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Baxter/Boo [Sep. 14th, 2014|12:30 pm]
Gary Emenitove
Glen had a little long haired chihuahua named Baxter.  Over time, people started calling him "Boo."  I learned recently that name came from Glen's wife Judie calling the little dog "Boo-Boo" after the mistakes he made on the carpet.  Judie's been gone since 2006 but I heard that story only recently.

Baxter began as a pet of Michael's nephew and quickly became a pet of that entire branch of the family.  At one point they moved into housing that allowed only so many pets, so Judie and Glen adopted Baxter.  Permanently.

When Judie died, Baxter became Glen's shadow.  First at the home where he had resided with Judie for many years, then at the home he purchased, and finally in the adult apartment complex where he last lived.

During Glen's last hours, while the entire family was with him at the hospital, the hospital told us yes, we could bring Baxter.  For awhile Baxter was on the bed with Glen.  We don't know if Glen was aware of this -- it's one of those things you're never sure about.  Baxter licked Glen's hand and there wasn't a dry eye in the room.  At one point, Glen's granddaughter offered to take Baxter out for a walk.  While they were out, Glen passed away.  I don't know the symbolism of that, but think about it often.

While in the apartment, Glen had become more and more tired, and soon was spending all day sitting in his La-Z-Boy recliner watching TV, always with Baxter in his lap or at his feet.  When Glen got sicker and went into the hospital, we brought Baxter home with us, first only for the nights, then full-time.  Our two dogs more or less ignored him at first, but recently we've caught them near him at night.

Now Baxter is ours and we are his.  He's quite a different dog than our two Shelties.  They go where they want, in and out through a dog door.  Baxter doesn't have enough mass to push through the dog door so requires human intervention.  He also isn't interested in going up or down steps -- not a huge obstacle in this house but it does keep his options limited.

Baxter is 12 or 13...once we find his paperwork we should know for sure.  He was very overweight a couple years ago -- Glen liked feeding his dogs whatever he...er..."they"...wanted.  Now Baxter is closer to ideal weight and moves around quite a bit more than he had the last few years, and seems to be enjoying it.

As we approach winter, I am anticipating my first-ever Three Dog Night.
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The Weekend That Wasn't [Aug. 17th, 2014|08:57 am]
Gary Emenitove
In the 1950s (yes, I'm that old) I enjoyed watching The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves on TV.  I enjoyed it on several levels -- it sparked my imagination, it was something other than a cartoon on afternoon TV (in Omaha), and that music caught my interest.  (It's always about the music -- then and now.)

As I grew up, my interest in the show did not lessen.  I learned more about its cast, its creators, its on-the-cheap special effects, etc.  (For me, a fascinating side story is that of Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen on the show.  Jack is gay and his late partner was James Bridges who directed TV's The Paper Chase, one of my all-time favorite shows.)  Whenever I let my imagination soar -- to this day -- one of the first things that pops into my head is the theme from the Adventures of Superman.  (And that's quite a big deal, considering how much I enjoy John Williams' Superman The Movie score from years later.)

Years passed.  I moved away from, and back to, the Omaha area.  Upon returning I was exploring a science fiction bookstore one day and came across a copy of the fanzine The Adventures Continue, then-edited by Don Rhoden.  The shopkeeper told me Rhoden was from right here in Omaha.  I bought the fanzine, later subscribed.  Still later, it because an internet publication, then a discussion group online and today is a website and Facebook group.

Along the way I became virtual friends with many other like-minded folks -- most of them middle-aged men who had enjoyed the Adventures of Superman in their youth.

One of the leaders of the group, Jim Nolt, has been working on a get-together for all of us in Los Angeles.  It was this weekend and the date's been set for well over a year.  I had reservations and was planning to go, but M's dad has had a rough time for nearly a year, and about 6 months ago we decided to put on hold any trips (except, ironically, one to Ohio for the memorial of M's dad's brother.)

I'm reading online now of this weekend's festivities in L.A. celebrating the 100th birthdays of George Reeves and Joel Siegel & Jerry Shuster, the creators of the character Superman.  Jack Larson was in attendance, and I would have liked to tell him in person what his work -- and that of James Bridges -- have meant to me.  Wish I could have been there.

Yeah, I'm being just a little closeted by posting this here on LJ -- where many readers/writers will fully understand my interest in this genre -- and not on Facebook.
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The Stars and Stripes [Aug. 3rd, 2014|01:06 pm]
Gary Emenitove
I received a piece in the mail about the days to display the flag.  Two of the dates listed -- Easter and Christmas -- are religious holidays.  Another is the "National Day of Prayer" which I'm not sure I've even heard of.

Why would the flag be displayed on a religious holiday?  We respect separation of church and state, don't we?

Or, looking at it another way, only a few religious holidays are on the list.  Why wouldn't the flag be displayed on all religious holidays?  There are two Christian holidays listed.  Why not other major (or minor) religious holidays?

Or, why not just display the flag every day?  Many businesses do that.

Methinks this particular flag-display-days list is from a particular point of view.
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