Saturday, July 31, 2004

Stupid Meter Maid Tricks

Chapter 1

A couple of weeks ago I was driving towards Cannery Row. I turned off of Lighthouse into the left lane of Foam. For those unfamiliar with the area, Foam is a two lane one way street.

Traffic was heavy that day, as it usually is on summer weekends. As I turned onto Foam, traffic came to a dead stop. I could see some yellow flashing lights ahead, and as I slowly crept forward I saw it was a meter maid cart.

The meter maid wasn't writing a ticket, she was just talking to someone. Her cart was blocking traffic. People in the left lane were trying to get around her, but were having trouble due to heavy traffic in the right lane. This meter maid was clearly oblivious to the fact that she had two lanes of traffic backed up for almost two blocks. Sensing that, I decided to let her know, so as I passed I rolled down my window and said "You're gumming up traffic." All she needed to do to solve the problem was to move into one of several empty parking spaces a few feet ahead of her.

Immediately she began to pursue me. At the Reeside signal she stopped in a parking space alongside me and shouted for me to roll down my window, which I did. She then screamed "If you have a problem you take it up with the parking department. I was just doing my job!"

Which made me wonder, if what she was doing was so important, why was she suddenly able to drop it and pursue me? Anyway, a few minutes later I saw her again, blocking traffic. This time she was on a side street, with a line of cars wrapped around the corner trying to turn off of Foam onto that side street. Again, she was oblivious, and again she could have gotten out of their way by pulling off to a clear spot immediately in front of her.

Anyway, per her instructions, I called the parking office the following Monday and made a complaint.

Chapter 2

Today I was driving the same route, and in almost exactly the same place there was a meter maid blocking traffic. I can't say for sure that this was the same meter maid, but she looked similar. She was standing on the sidewalk two or three car lengths from her cart, writing a ticket. Traffic was lighter today, and I was able to pass her cart with less trouble.

But as I passed, it began moving. Slowly at first, and I suddenly realized nobody was in it! I watched in my mirror as it picked up speed and drifted across two lanes of traffic. It seemed like an awfully long time before I saw the meter maid in frantic foot pursuit. Too late, it smashed into the side of a parked car, probably belonging to an unsuspecting tourist who came here to have a good time.

Chapter 3

I've never been very fond of Monterey's parking enforcement staff. One time, several years ago, a zealous officer ticketed several people in my neighborhood multiple times in one week. We were all parked in our own driveways, which were just a little too short for a car to completely clear the sidewalk. Never mind that we'd been parking there for many years. For this one week we were his favorite target.

And a few years ago I was ticketed for lingering too long in a 90 minute space. Problem is, the time indicated on the ticket showed that it was issued just 45 minutes after I parked. I tried to fight it, but lost. It was my word against the ticket. Guess which they believed.

Ironically, the City of Monterey's official parking website is called "Smart Parking."

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I'm still here.

Its has been awhile since I checked in with my two (that I know of) regular readers. Rest assured, I'm still here.

John Hartford had a song wherein he describes in witty verse a series of calamities. He cheerfully concludes each verse by singing "...but I'm still here."

And so am I.

So many things on my mind, and so little time to share them. The reason for my absence from this journal was a co-worker on paternity leave, suffering from twins. That left just two or us to run a place that will soon require four if business keeps picking up as it has the last couple of months.

Meanwhile, I have found a little time each day to play my banjo. I got a mute, a small clamp that keeps the bridge from vibrating, so I can play at night. It also gives the banjo a soft, soothing tone so it is like having two instruments in one. I know three songs reasonably well now, and I'm working on a fourth & fifth. It is really cool to be playing banjo that sounds like real banjo after only a couple of months. There's a lot yet to learn, and I can only manage to form my fingers into four or five chords, but every week my skills improve just enough to keep me encouraged.

I'm really enjoying the speeches from the Democratic National Convention. I remember the previous convention season when Paula Poundstone reported on Jay Leno "There's a lot of phoniness here." And she was right. The Democrats have gotten over that. They're addressing real meat and potatoes issues this time, and doing it very well. If the party continues in this mode, this former Republican may just go from being officially independent (or, more accurately "decline to state" in California), to a true blue Democrat.

One particular item of interest was seeing two former military men at the podium Wednesday night, both of whom were, until recently, Republicans. One was a former Marine, now running for Congress. The other was a famous General. They talked about the poor state of our military after having been spread too thin in Iraq.

Other great speakers in the first few days included Jimmy Carter, former President Bill Clinton, Al Sharpton (a great speaker, but he was horribly miscast as a primary candidate), and my favorite so far, Theresa Heinz Kerry.

I notice the only news network providing full coverage is CNN. But at the Toy house we've been watching the convention on C-SPAN. There's no better way to watch the conventions. They show everything without the silly punditry.

Which reminds me. I remember back in 1980, at the Republican convention, there were rumors about former President Gerald Ford possibly being Ronald Reagan's runnning mate. Some stupid reporter picked up on a related rumor that Ford would only accept if he were an equal partner creating a "co-presidency." For the next hour or so all of the networks, not wanting to be left out of the rumor mill, were talking about this co-presidency idea, wondering if it was constitutional and so forth. It was one of the great low spots in convention reporting. 

So that's where I've been. Working hard, playing banjo, watching the convention, and, finally, stopping in here.



Friday, July 9, 2004, Part II

Awhile back I wrote about a fruitless experience on I am happy to report that they've gotten the bugs out, pretty much.

We needed stuff, and we were just too tired and too busy to go to the store. tempted us with a coupon for $15 off $75 or more if we tried again, so I bit.

It worked! First I checked the milk, in the size and quality we usually get, because that's what they didn't have last time. They had it. So happily I went through the list and made an order.

I ordered ice cream, frozen veggies, hamburger, cookies, cereal, soup, and lots more. All at the same prices as the store, mostly items on sale. They even had our personal favorite products lined up on-line for easy selection, from information gleaned from years of using our Club Card. (Big Brother is here and it turns out that he is actually more useful than threatening, so far.) The time spend wandering virtual aisles was about the same as going through the actual store, this first time anyway, but I at least I could do it sitting down with bare feet.

I selected a delivery window of 12:00pm-2:00pm today. The driver showed up at 12:03, with a stack of blue bins on the front porch. He was a friendly, clean-cut young man with excellent communication skills. He explained that a couple of items were out of stock, but other than that, no worries. He then brought the goods into the kitchen. They were in standard plastic grocery bags, too many of them really, as some only contained one small item each. This probably had something to do with their sorting system, I guess.

Only one slight complaint. After he left and I was putting away the canned goods, I noticed a can of pears was pretty bashed in on one side. I never buy dented cans.

But all in all, it was a great experience, and I would do it again if pressed for time, which is often. But I'll do a more complete inventory of the kitchen first. Turns out we needed lettuce, and it wasn't on the shopping list. I'll have to stop by the store again in a day or two anyway. Oh well.


Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Housing Horrors

A small house went up for sale in Seaside last week, just two doors down from ours. It is about the same square footage (800 square feet), and on the same size lot as our own. Less than a year ago our place was appraised at $325,000, which just happens to be in the price range my boss has been looking for. He and his wife want to get out of the rental rat race.

The For Sale sign went up on Monday. On Wednesday I called the real estate agent to inquire further, so I could pass the information on to my boss. I was shocked when the agent said they were asking $475,000. And that was "as is" for a "fixer-upper." On Saturday there was a red SOLD sign on it.

You'd think I'd be happy to hear that news, for it means that we are sitting on our own little gold mine. But rather, I'm frustrated. Housing is not just unaffordable for low income people. It is now out of reach for the middle class, my friends, my co-workers, the people who make everything around here go.

Back in 1956 my parents looked at a two story stone house on Carmel Point, overlooking the south end of Carmel Beach. It was priced at $55,000. That was a lot of money then, to be sure, but in today's dollars that would be about $382,000. Houses on Carmel Point now sell for about fifteen times that.

This all means that a tiny cottage in the cheap seats of Seaside now costs substantially more than a luxury home in a prestigious neighborhood did 50 years ago. Knowing that, I can't understand how some people fail to grasp the seriousness of the affordable housing problem.

Developers argue that they can't build houses any cheaper. However, the cost of building houses has not gone up nearly as much as the value of the land. Our insurance agent says that our house, now allegedly worth nearly half a million dollars, could easily be rebuilt for less than $100,000 if it were lost in a fire.

But elsewere in Seaside, on the former Fort Ord, the government sold surplus land to a developer for far less than market value, where new houses are now being sold at market prices. Someone has made a killing at taxpayer expense.

In the face of this information, the Seaside City Council has rolled over and played dead. They argue that Seaside is tired of being dumped on for the low-income housing and that other peninsula cities need to "share the burden." The flaw in that argument is that those cities are built-out, while Seaside is getting dirt cheap land (with water, yet) where lots and lots of affordable houses could be built. About the only politician standing up to Seaside is Congressman Sam Farr, yet his solo efforts are resisted at every turn.

In short, Seaside isn't helping. Seaside is contributing to the problem.

Monday, July 5, 2004

Unquestionably Debateable

Today I read a newspaper commentary. I will refrain from naming either the author or the paper to spare both from further embarrassment beyond what they have already inflicted upon themselves.

While I tend to be in agreement with many of the author's views (I think), I ended up just laughing. The piece contained this unfathomable sentence in regard to whether underground water is part of a river system or not:

"Without question, this is debatable, but no one has stepped up to spending money to determine if this is wholly true, which it undoubtedly is not."

Down the rabbit hole we go!

Let's take the first five words. He's saying is that the issue is definitely uncertain. I think.

Next, we have a roundabout way of saying "nobody has determined" (Somebody buy this fellow a copy of The Elements of Style!).

Finally if we are not totally lost we arrive at "...if this is wholly true, which it undoubtedly is not." In other words we need to spend money to conclude what he has already concluded, even though he himself does not seem entirely certain of his conclusion. I think.